It sounds heavenly: taking classes when you feel like it, submitting all your homework online, and staying home instead of braving the rush hour.
But how do online degree programs and in-class programs stack up?
Let’s take a look:
Scheduling – When it comes to scheduling, online degree programs predictably trump traditional time-bound class attendance requirements. If you cannot function mentally first thing in the morning, you may do considerably better in an online class that you can schedule around your sleep/wake cycle. Learning from your home computer or laptop also frees you from the hassles of commuting to and from campus. Last but certainly not least, the fact that you can attend your virtual classes at your convenience may make it much easier to hold down a job or honor other outside commitments.
Interaction – Online degree programs and traditional college courses both score in this department, but in different ways. No online environment can provide the in-person interaction, so critical for the development of social skills and one-to-one relationships. In this sense, the tree-lined walkways, dorms, student unions, casual coffee shops, and ivy-covered benches of a traditional campus still have something important to offer. Naturally charismatic or outgoing students may enjoy particular success in this arena. On the other hand, introverted or shy students may blossom in online courses, since all online interaction assumes a written form behind a comforting veil of anonymity. A real campus means real student interactions.
Costs – Cash-poor students (that is to say, most of them) may find online degree programs an economical alternative to traditional schools, with their hefty tuition fees, room and board bills, textbook prices and commuting costs. Online courses require no physical books or materials, and without a regular commute students also save on fuel and automotive maintenance. Online-only programs may also charge lower tuition fees than other academic options. Online courses don’t require those expensive textbooks.
Academic quality – Online degree programs got off to a rough start in the 1990s as major colleges struggled to figure out the best ways to incorporate these programs into their overall scholastic offerings. To muddy the waters further, many “degree mills” popped up all over the Internet, these unaccredited institutions offered cheap, easy-to-earn degrees that unfortunately carried little sway as far as job interviews or career advancement were concerned.
Today, many of the leading U.S. universities have embraced online courses as an alternative to their in-class programs, with students receiving the same quality of education, under the same instructors, no matter which form they pursue. Keep mind though, that “degree mills” still lurk on the fringes of cyberspace, and remember the old saying that if a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If you seek web-based learning, make sure it comes from an accredited institution.
Online learning has taken firm hold as a growing trend, and not just for colleges, the Scottsdale Unified School District, has begun enrolling virtual students from all over Arizona at its new online school, and the Scottsdale Online Learning program also helps students who need to complete the necessary credits for graduation. Of course, only you can decide whether pixels or papers suit your style better – but keep an open mind as you investigate!
About the Author: William Reynolds has worked as a freelance copywriter since 1997. William writes about everything from professionals like Charles E. Phillips and Steve Jobs to topics about education, home improvements and more.