There are many advantages to online courses and degree programs. Not only does it offer an opportunity for those unable to take traditional full-time classes such as working professionals and parents, but it also offers more freedom and flexibility to students of all types. Online education is widely accepted as being just as valuable as the classroom experience. And many colleges, universities, businesses, and organizations worldwide, now offer their students fully accredited online degrees and continuing education programs. But there are still important questions and steps one should consider when pursuing an online education. Such as determining whether it is a good fit for your own personal needs and learning style, and which programs are credible and best for your learning goals.
The growing popularity of online courses is undeniable, with online enrollment currently growing at a staggering 33% a year. There are more than 3 million students currently involved in distance or online learning according to the Distance Education and Training Council. And in today's increasingly connected world, this number continues to grow, and at a faster rate.
Degrees obtained through online courses and programs can be just as valuable as degrees from more conventional programs, but it is important to choose one that is respected and accredited.
This is because much like choosing a traditional college or university, some online programs offer better educations and hold better reputations than others. Members of the Apollo group, the Online University Consortium, and many top tier universities are safe bets for choosing a credible program. Also, U.S. News and World Report posts a list of well respected regional and professional accredited online graduate programs.
The Internet is even able to capture a lot of the same activities students partake in while learning in traditional classroom settings. For example, videoconferencing in real time allows students and professors to interact visually, and chat rooms and message boards help build relationships, make it convenient for students to help each other, and improve a professor's accessibility. And these tools and classroom resources are always at a student's fingertips, so that they can view past lectures, pour over message boards, and interact with other students when it's convenient for them. This ensures that students never miss out on a lesson or lecture or fall behind, as class information and resources are available at all times online.
The cost benefit of online programs lies mainly in the opportunity costs saved, as most students are able to keep their jobs while taking online classes. Savings are also realized in the absence of related school costs such as transportation and housing. Another consideration is that online courses are offered at the same price to students whether they are in state or out-of-state. This can make a huge difference when taking an online class at most state schools, as out-of-state costs will run significantly less than the on campus versions, in some cases even comparable to in state tuition. Relocation costs are forgone as well, which can be most beneficial to those looking to partake in a specialized program at a school that would normally require a burdensome relocation. For example, Cornell's renowned hotel management program can now be taken online at eCornell.
It is of course important to realize that online learning is certainly not for everyone. The most successful students of online learning are self-motivated as courses rarely enforce strict deadlines or class schedules, and work completion is done mostly at your own discretion. Those individuals that prefer face-to-face communication and group work should weigh these factors into their decision as well, deciding whether the online replacements for such elements are satisfactory. It is essential that prospective students are realistic about their own self-discipline and learning style before signing up.
- Caitlin Kneram, Salary.com contributor