Online learning programs are becoming increasingly popular largely due to the increased accessibility of this method of education.
Benefits of Online Schooling Programs
Also known as distance learning, online schooling has a number of benefits. These include:
- Convenience and Access for Students in Rural Areas – Students can complete the class anywhere they have access to a computer and the internet without long commutes to a physical campus
- More Accommodations for Learning Disabilities – Online classes are often more user-friendly for those with disabilities especially for students who already possess computer technology adapted for their particular needs.
- Lower Costs – Fees for such on-campus factors as meal plans, housing, textbooks, and miscellaneous fees covering other campus expenses are avoided for online programs
Yet, even with such benefits, many students who are used to attending the campus in a physical location with face to face instruction may wonder if online schooling options are right for them. One thing to consider when making this decision is the different types of online options that are available.
Types of Online Education Learning Options
There are several types of online education options, predominantly defined by the amount of time the students spends online vs. in a physical classroom with live instruction, when completing a certificate or degree program. The most common types of online education are:
- Individual Credit or Non-Credit Courses – Colleges often offer the ability to take or audit certain classes online either at the school the student attends or at another school. Classes can be synchronous (requiring instructors and students to be online at the same time in order to receive credit for the lecture, discussion or activity) or asynchronous (class materials can be accessed by the student at any time).
- Blended or Hybrid Courses – These courses mix classroom instruction with online instruction. Commonly instruction is split fairly evenly between face to face class time and online class time while assignments, activities, discussions and often tests are completed online. The number of blended courses available differs by the college but is generally significantly less than traditional classroom or fully online courses.
- Low Residency Online Degree Programs – While most of the degree requirements for this type of program can be completed online, students are required to attend short classes, day-long or weekend-long workshops. Residency requirements differ by school and degree program.
- Online Certificate or Degree Programs – These programs allow the student to complete all requirements for a certificate or degree online, with no residency requirement included.
Even with all these options, however, many students wonder if an online education is right for them.
Determining if Distance Learning is the Best Option for Your Education
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding if an online education is the best fit for you. While motivation and independence play a large part in successful online learning, there are other important internal and external determinants of whether distance learning is a good match for an individual student. Internal characteristics are those that are intrinsic to the individual.
Important internal characteristics for success in online learning programs include:
- Learning Style – Those who learn best through visual and kinesthetic (based on movement) channels tend to be comfortable with online learning since it involves a great deal of reading and typing. Auditory learners are less comfortable outside a traditional classroom setting since they are more successful when they can listen to the material as it is presented orally and process it as they hear it.
- Self-Motivation and Organization – Those who are internally motivated and do not need others to keep them on track perform best in online courses. A successful online student must be able to organize the components of the class. It is also crucial for online students to be able to organize their schedules in order to balance course requirements with other responsibilities in their lives.
- Independence and Time Management Skills – Completing an online course or degree requires the ability to work well with minimal external structure and the capacity to impose structure without the need for outside guidance. In addition, online work requires the self-discipline to set and meet individually determined goals.
Important external characteristics for success in online learning programs include:
- Time Availability – While asynchronous courses are more flexible than classroom-based courses, there are still required deadlines. In addition, though many assume online classes aren’t as time-consuming as traditional classroom courses, most online courses require more time per week to complete, generally around 15-20 hours weekly vs. 10-15 hours weekly for classroom courses.
- Computer Competency – For online education to be a good fit, the student must be comfortable with basic computer technology including internet use, familiarity with programs like Word and Excel and the ability to learn the specific computer platform used to teach the course.
- Expression of Ideas in Writing – Online courses involve correspondence via email. Courses also often require participation in discussions or synchronous chats. Therefore to be successful in online coursework students must be comfortable communicating about the course with your professor and fellow students online and be able to express your thoughts and opinions accurately in writing, sometimes in real-time.
So Is Online Schooling Right for Me?
There are numerous factors that predict whether online schooling is right for an individual student, some of which are intrinsic while others are extrinsic. If after reviewing the requirements of online learning, you are still uncertain, there are several interactive assessments available to aid your decision. Easily completed online, such assessments can help you determine your comfort with this type of learning and whether you possess the characteristics and skills needed to succeed in an online learning environment.
About the Author: Jessica Alan is a guidance counselor earning a counseling masters degree online from the comfort of her own home.