The current challenges facing traditional colleges and universities, including higher tuition, budget cuts, and course shortages, have caused many students to search for alternatives. With nearly three million students currently enrolled in fully online degree programs and six million taking at least one online course as part of their degree program, online education has clearly become one of the most popular higher education alternatives. The continually improving reputation of online learning has also helped fuel its expansion, as initial skepticism has faltered in the face of evidence that shows that online learning can be just as effective as face-to-face education.
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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. Below are 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 wish to study, from nursing to neuroscience, they can find online the courses or degree programs they need. They can also earn every academic degree online, all the way from a career certificate to a doctorate.
- Lower total costs: Online programs can be a more affordable option than traditional colleges. Though not all online degrees have less expensive net tuition prices than traditional colleges (link to OEDB article I wrote about college costs), associated costs are almost always less expensive. For example, there are no commuting costs, and sometimes there is also not any required course materials such as textbooks because those are often available for free online. In addition, many colleges and universities have begun to accept credits earned via free massive open online courses (MOOCs), the most recent advance in online education. Free online courses such as these can help students fulfill general education requirements at little to no cost.
- More comfortable learning environment: Commercials that featuring online students studying in the pajamas only skim the surface of one of the primary benefits of online education: there are no physical class sessions. Lectures and other materials are electronically sent to the student, who will then read them and complete assignments. Students will not have to fight traffic, find parking spaces, leave work early to go to class, or miss important family time.
- Convenience and flexibility: Online courses give students the opportunity to plan their study time around the rest of their day, instead of the other way around. Students can study and work when they are at their peak energy, whether that’s early morning or late at night. Course material is always accessible online, so there’s no need to schedule special trips to a library either. All of this makes online learning a good option for students who need to balance their work and family commitments.
- More interaction and greater ability to concentrate: While there is contradictory evidence about the rate of online student participation versus participation in traditional courses, one thing is certain: online courses offer shy or more reticent students the opportunity to participate in class discussions or chats with more ease than face-to-face class sessions. Some students even report that online courses are easier to concentrate in because they are not distracted by other students and 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 prospective employers that you are ambitious and want to remain informed and prepared for any new challenges.
- Continue in your profession: Even if someone wants to complete a degree program, it doesn’t mean that they want to leave their current job. For most students today, college costs mean that it’s necessary to continue working while in school. The previously mentioned flexibility of online degree programs enable students to keep working while also pursuing academic credentials.
- Avoid commuting: During snowstorms and thunderstorms, colleges may cancel classes; if they don’t, you run the risk of getting hurt in dangerous driving conditions. Rather than miss important class sessions, students in online courses can always “attend” by participating on discussion boards or in chat sessions, turn in their work on time, and watch lectures or read materials. Many students also find that the amount they save on fuel costs can be substantial if they don’t have to commute to a physical campus in general, no matter what the weather conditions may be.
- 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 skills students learn to participate in their online courses translate to many professions, including creating and sharing documents, incorporating audio/video materials into your assignments, completing online training sessions, etc.
- Transfer credits: For college students who want to attend summer classes, but who live too far from their colleges or have to work summer jobs, taking online classes from an accredited college and transferring the credits to their primary college is a good idea. Students will be able to earn college credit while still enjoying their summer vacation or fulfilling the responsibilities of their seasonal jobs. Similarly, if a college or university is unable to offer enough open sections of a required course, students can take the course online at another college and transfer the credits.
These are just a few of the many advantages of taking online classes. Students in online degree programs are able to manage their time, learn the materials that are presented, and complete assignments on their own schedules.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Distance Learning
If you're considering online education, e-learning or taking any course or program via online learning, it's worthy to note that this is all regarded as distance learning and there are a few aspects that you need to be aware of, primarily the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning.
But contrary to what many people believe, the value gained from the advantages far more outweigh the disadvantages.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning?
Advantages of distance learning to the learner:
- Distance learning does not require commuting. This saves you money and time that you would otherwise spend on travel back and forth to school. You can schedule learning around other aspects of your personal and professional life.
- You can complete most of the classes at your convenience. Most of the classes are asynchronous, which means you don't have to attend a lecture at a particular time and place. You can review the assignments and do your homework during off-hours or from home.
- Live anywhere, study from anywhere while pursuing the education of your choice. You don't have to live in the same city or the same country to attend the learning institution of your choice. You can study wherever you have access to a computer and Internet connection.
- Gain extra knowledge. You can transfer the computer and Internet skills that you'll gain in the process of your distance learning experience to other facets of your life.
- Self-paced learning. For slow and quick learners. This reduces stress and increases satisfaction.
- Accessibility. Online classes address physical accessibility issues that some people with limited mobility encounter when taking traditional classes. You don't have to worry about gaining access to a classroom or sitting on uncomfortable desks. Instead, you can use your comfortable furniture in your home while enjoying free movement and a chance to further your education.
Disadvantages of distance learning to the learner:
While thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning, pros and cons, one may wonder if there are any distance learning disadvantages. Yes there are several among them:
- Costly and complex technology. Despite the many opportunities of distance education, there are inevitable accompanying costs. Live video communication for example, requires careful planning of the equipment and facilities. For online learning, you must own a computer (with access to the Internet). This required technology is not always available. Some learners may also be afraid (technophobic) of technology.
- Advance planning. Both the instructors and students involved in distance learning may need to make sacrifices at times to get things done in time.
- Hidden costs. If you work for the military for example, and you are on the ship, how do you get your materials? They may need to be mailed in advance incurring extra shipping and handling costs.
- Distance learning does not offer immediate feedback. In a traditional classroom setting, a student's performance can be immediately assessed through questions and informal testing. With distance learning, a student has to wait for feedback until the instructor has reviewed their work and responded to it.
- Distance learning does not always offer all the necessary courses online. Students pursuing a specific certificate or degree program may not have all the necessary courses available through distance learning so it is not suited for all subjects. While you can study a history lesson completely online, you cannot perform nursing clinicals online. Thus physical classroom attendance will be necessary to complete the course.
- Distance learning degrees may not be acknowledged by all employers. Although most employers do acknowledge distance learning, certain employers do not. Students who want to work for a specific employer upon graduation should be sure of that employer's perspective about online education.
- Distance learning does not give students the opportunity to work on oral communication skills. Students in distance learning courses do not get the practice of verbal interaction with professors and other students.
- Social isolation. Most often you'll be studying alone. Distance learners may feel isolated or miss that social physical interaction that comes with attending a traditional classroom. However this impersonality has been lessening with advances and use of communication technologies such as bulletin boards, threaded discussions, social networking, chats, email and video conferencing.
Based on your unique circumstances, you can compare the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning over traditional learning, while also taking into consideration your learning style, and decide which type of education is right for you.
If you're considering to earn your education by distance learning and you're not sure where to begin, we have listed here some of the top schools with online degrees in the United States that you can consider and request information to help make an informed decision.
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