The current challenges facing traditional colleges and universities — including higher tuition, budget cuts, and course shortages — cause many students to search for alternatives. With nearly three million students currently enrolled in fully online programs and six million taking at least one online course as part of their degree, online education has clearly become one of the most popular higher education alternatives. The continually improving reputation of online learning helped fuel its expansion, as initial skepticism faltered in the face of evidence showing that online learning can be just as effective as face-to-face education.
All of this means that students, from working professionals to recent high school graduates, find many reasons to take all or some of their courses online. The following list includes 10 advantages to online learning.
- Variety of programs and courses: From traditional four-year universities to completely online career colleges, higher education today offers a variety of options for students. This means that no matter what students study, from nursing to neuroscience, they can find the courses or programs they need online. Students can also earn every academic degree online, from a career certificate to a doctorate.
- Lower total costs: Online programs prove a more affordable option than traditional colleges. Though not all online degrees offer less expensive net tuition prices than traditional colleges, associated expenses almost always cost less. For example, there are no commuting costs, and sometimes required course materials, such as textbooks, are available online at no cost. In addition, many colleges and universities accept credits earned via free massive open online courses (MOOCs), the most recent advance in online education. These free online courses can help students fulfill general education requirements.
- More comfortable learning environment: Commercials that feature online students studying in their pajamas only skims the surface of one of the benefits of online education: no physical class sessions. Students listen to lectures and complete assignments sent to them electronically, with no need to fight traffic, leave work early for class, or miss important family time.
- Convenience and flexibility: Online courses give students the opportunity to plan study time around the rest of their day, instead of the other way around. Students can study and work at their convenience. Course material is always accessible online, making special library trips unnecessary. All of these benefits help students balance work and family commitments with their education.
- More interaction and greater ability to concentrate: WWhile contradictory evidence about the rate of online student participation versus participation in traditional courses exists, one thing remains certain: Online courses offer shy or more reticent students the opportunity to participate in class discussions more easily than face-to-face class sessions. Some students even report better concentration in online classes due to the lack of classroom activity.
- Career advancement: Students can take online courses and even complete entire degrees while working, while in-between jobs, or while taking time to raise a family. This academic work will explain any discontinuity or gaps in a resume as well. Also, earning a degree can show ambitiousness to prospective employers and a desire to remain informed and prepared for new challenges.
- Continue in your profession: Even if someone wants to complete a degree, it may not mean they want to leave their current job. For most students today, increasing college costs mandate that some students continue working while in school. The previously mentioned flexibility of online programs enable students to keep working while also pursuing academic credentials.
- Avoid commuting: During snowstorms and thunderstorms, colleges may cancel classes to avoid putting commuting students at risk of dangerous driving conditions. Rather than miss important class sessions, students in online courses can always "attend" by participating in discussion boards or chat sessions, turning in their work on time, and watching lectures or reading materials. Many students also find substantial savings on fuel costs with no commute for classes.
- Improve your technical skills: Even the most basic online course requires the development of new computer skills, as students learn to navigate different learning management systems (LMS) and programs. The participation skills students learn within their online courses translate to many professions, including creating and sharing documents, incorporating audio/video materials into assignments, completing online training sessions, etc. Some schools even offer students free laptops or iPads.
- Transfer credits: For college students who want to attend summer classes, but live too far from their colleges and/or work summer jobs, taking online classes from an accredited college and transferring the credits to their primary college can be beneficial. Students can earn college credit while still enjoying their summer vacation or fulfilling the responsibilities of their seasonal employment. Similarly, if a college or university does not offer enough open sections of a required course, students can take the course online at another college and transfer the credits.
Students in online programs can effectively manage their time, learn the materials, and complete assignments on their own schedules to name just a few benefits of online learning.
How Do Online College Classes Work?
LMS allow instructors to upload course information for easy student access. Common LMS include Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle, which provide accessible exchange of information between professors and students. If the department delivers a course asynchronously, degree candidates may view lectures and course materials, such as PowerPoint presentations and syllabi, at their leisure. Synchronous courses, however, require scheduled attendance through online chats or conferencing.
Learners submit course assignments through LMS by posting on discussion forums and submitting tasks through applicable links. To submit a research paper, for instance, a student using Blackboard could click on the particular assignment link to upload the finished product. Professors may provide feedback to the student through comments or email when using this LMS.
One issue that arises in the online classes versus traditional classes debate relates to test-taking, since professors and students communicate virtually. Professors do not oversee the process to ensure that no cheating occurs. To solve this issue, departments may require degree seekers to visit centers where a proctor can supervise the assessment. Another option involves using online proctoring services that monitor students as they work. If the learner exhibits any behavior that indicates cheating, the service may alert the school. This process permits degree candidates to take assessments away from campus, and also provides schools with confidence that students honestly earned their grades.
Are Online Classes Easier Than Traditional On-Campus Programs?
When weighing the pros and cons of online classes, students can take comfort in the solid education virtual learning delivers. Required coursework remains similar between traditional and online courses, with students completing exams, papers, presentations, quizzes, and projects in either format. Each of these assignments may come with a deadline that online or on-campus degree candidates must meet.
Online learners typically submit forum posts to engage in peer discussion, which acts as a substitute for in-person class attendance. Weekly readings and course lectures surface in both delivery methods, supplying on-campus and distance learners with solid course information. This combination makes online learning both effective and engaging.
Accreditation provides another comfort concerning the benefits of online learning since any accredited program, whether on-campus or online, boasts the approval of an accrediting agency. This detail means that any accredited online program meets the same standards as accredited on-campus options. Degree seekers can search for schools through the U.S. Department of Education's website to determine accreditation status.
Online courses also come with technical aspects that traditional classes may not include, such as software and LMS options. By this estimation, online students not only encounter all mandatory coursework, but also gain experience with new technology as one of the advantages of online classes.