Are Online Classes Right For You?

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online-studentA segment on this morning’s Today Show caught my attention. It was titled, “Go Back to School Online”. As soon as I heard that, my defenses immediately went up. You can watch a video of the segment, and you’ll see that they actually do cover a number of the points I had feared they wouldn’t address.

I have a great deal of experience with online learning, through working with my students as well as in taking online coursework myself, and I can tell you that an online education is not for everyone. You definitely want to think about the pros and cons of taking coursework online as well as your own personality traits before jumping into the “easy and convenient” world of going to college from the comfort of your own home.

Don’t Jump Right In

I’ve met many students who’ve been so excited about going to school. While I think that’s fantastic, I’m always a bit concerned when someone wants to jump right in with online learning. Often times, this isn’t the best route to take as a new student. Getting accustomed to college learning requires an adjustment period to learn the ropes and to develop strong study skills.

Online classes are not ideal for getting your feet wet. Unlike learning in the classroom, online classes do not allow you the support of your peers or of the instructor. You’ll be learning the material primarily on your own by reading the textbook. This is a particularly daunting task if you happen to be an auditory or hands-on learner.

Consider Your Strengths

Which brings me to my next point. Even if you are an experienced student with a few semesters under your belt, you probably want to try to take your least favorite coursework on campus. If, for instance, math isn’t your best subject, chances are it’ll be a lot harder in an online class without the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture, see the problems being worked out on the board, and stop the professor to ask questions.

While your instructor will be accessible through email or office hours, it may take a while to get a response. There are often group activities or community building exercises built into the online experience, but even these efforts lack the immediate dynamic of a classroom setting.

Know Your Personality

Finally, be honest with yourself. Consider your study style. Are you a procrastinator? If so, taking classes online may not be your best choice. And I say this from personal experience. You’re apt to find yourself stressed out the day of the test when the week has flown by and you haven’t even looked at the material. In a case like this, you wouldn’t even have had the benefit of listening to the lecture in class. So if you know that you’re a person who needs a push once in a while to get motivated, you may want to hold off on taking classes online.

If you decide to try taking online coursework, it’s a good idea to choose a class that really interests you or that you have some experience with. Also, reach out to classmates to see if anyone would like to form study groups in real life; this can help to add a personal element to your online learning experience.


Sherry says:

It’s always interesting to hear others’ takes on the whole online college experience. Thus far, I’ve taken 9 online classes and a whole heap of traditional ones. While I’m not sure one is better than the other, I can definitely speak to how much MORE work and discipline is required with online classes. There is a ton more reading, and it’s necessary in my experience (especially now that I’m in upper level classes) to keep exceedingly organized in order to do well.

Great article!

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