Online education and classes were once a novelty offered at just a few institutions. They have since grown to be offered almost everywhere. There are even institutions that exist entirely online.
Online classes allow you an immense amount of flexibility. With no set class time, it is fairly easy to fit them into your current schedule. This allows thousands of students the opportunity to continue working full time or caring for their families, while also working toward their degree. No set classroom space means that students without access to a local college, or university, can receive their education without leaving their homes, and lives. And on top of all that, you don’t even have to worry about finding a parking space!
With so many benefits, it is easy to understand the appeal of online coursework. But before you enroll and jump in with both feet, think it through. Is online education really the right fit for you? Here are 5 questions to help you decide.
1. What are your goals?
This is the best place to start when you’re looking into any type of education. However, it is especially important for online learning.
Do you want to see if going back to school is a viable option by taking a class but don’t have access to a traditional course? Do you want to advance your career by getting another degree or certification? Have you put off college but want to FINALLY get your degree? Taking a hard look at your reasoning will help you gauge your level of motivation and sort out if now is the right time.
Once you’ve thought about your goals, WRITE THEM DOWN! Then they’re a physical reminder to you, and the simple act of writing them down makes them more real.
2. Are you determined enough to finish what you start?
Online classes take a lot of self-discipline. The flip side of not having a set class time is that you have to hold yourself accountable. Setting a time each day to work on your classes will help, but it is ultimately up to you to keep that schedule.
If you have trouble sticking to a schedule by yourself, try it out somewhere else in your daily schedule. Set time to hit the gym or do an online yoga class each day or week prior to enrolling in classes as a test run. Or, enroll in a single class to start out, rather than a full course load.
3. Do you thrive in a group environment?
When you’re taking an online course, you don’t have a set group of people that you see each class period. This can make it hard to ask for help with difficult material or to find a study group to work with if you’re in need of motivation (or commiseration). Some professors will set up discussion threads or require discussion posts for credit, but that doesn’t take the place of turning to your neighbor to ask a question.
If you need a group environment, try taking a class with someone else that you know–a friend or coworker for example–so that you have someone that knows what you’re going through.
4. How much time do you really have to commit to your education?
You may not have to be in class at a particular place or have to worry about travel time. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to devote any less time to your classes. Online courses are designed to take up just as much time as traditional classes. Often times, students actually spend more time on online classes.
A 3 credit class at most institutions requires 3 hours of time spent in class, in addition to 6 hours of work out of class. That’s a total of 9 hours spent on the class each week. Just because you aren’t spending 3 hours a week in a classroom doesn’t mean you’ll spend any less time working on an online class.
Often, students taking online classes will devote even more time than traditional students. They spend more time reading to get the necessary background information.
5. Will an online degree or certification be taken seriously in your field?
As much as it stinks to admit, there is still a negative stigma surrounding online degrees. You can and should verify the program you’re considering by looking into their accreditation, but in some fields, online classes just don’t stack up the same way that traditional programs do.
If you’re in a field like education, nursing, counseling or social work where you work with people every day, ask around and see what people think of online degrees. It won’t be much help to you if you put in the time and money to receive your degree, only to find out that it won’t be taken seriously.
If you think online classes are right for you, take a look at our 5 keys to choosing an online program!