Online classes for college: Is distance learning right for you?

Whether you need one more class this summer to graduate or are working a part-time internship 500 miles away from your university, taking an online classes for college may be the answer to earning your degree sooner! Also known as distance learning, online classes are becoming increasingly popular, even with students who study at college full-time. Just be sure to consider all the potential pros and cons before committing to any online classes.

Growth of online courses
Wikipedia has an entry on distance learning stating that it goes back to 1728 and goes on to state this about the growth of online courses: “A study published in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Education found that ‘From 2000 to 2008, the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in at least one distance education class expanded from 8 percent to 20 percent, and the percentage enrolled in a distance education degree program increased from 2 percent to 4 percent.’”

Class structure
The beauty of online courses is that you only need a computer and an Internet connection to make it to class on time, which is why it’s the most convenient way to earn college credit. Class structures will vary from professor to professor, but, thanks to modern technology, many professors opt for virtual classrooms (available through the networks of most universities) where students can sign in and participate via chat. Professors assign homework in much the same way, and almost everything you need is available in downloadable format (no more losing syllabi or assignments).

The advantages
If you work, have a family or live far away from campus, online courses might be the perfect solution for you. If you need to develop your tech skills, an online learning environment might help you hone in on those Internet and technology abilities. Distance learning may also help more introverted students, who might normally remain silent in a physical classroom packed with hundreds of individuals. These students may have the confidence in front of their computer screens to instead type their opinions and ideas, making the classroom a much richer environment for intellectual exploration.

Professors may also teach online classes in ways that are more creative. They might administer class polls or lectures via video chat, which may add even more interesting elements to the coursework.

Another advantage is that it may help you graduate sooner. According to a December 19, 2011, Fox Business article entitled, “Is Tech the Way to Get Higher Education Back on Track,”  “…experts say students are taking too long to earn a degree. NCES also reports approximately 56% of college students are taking six or more years to graduate.” So online courses could help you reach your goals more quickly.

The drawbacks
Although there are many positives to distance learning, there are also a few negatives. For instance, online classes can be difficult for students with very specific learning styles. If you’re more of an auditory or tactile learner, you may have difficulty learning or retaining the information the professor is giving you. Textual presentation can only do so much for someone who learns best from a lecturer, by writing notes in class or by solving math equations on a whiteboard.

It’s also important to consider the loss of the traditional class routine that most students are familiar with. You may lose motivation without the presence of an instructor or peer group, and asking your professor for help on a difficult assignment may prove to be less simple or straightforward via email.

Online courses aren’t for everyone, but if you’re well aware of your learning strengths and weaknesses, and have a schedule that’s best suited for online coursework, you can decide if taking an online class is right for you.

Have you tried an online class before?

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