Prior to the widespread use of the Internet, students who could not attend college in traditional classrooms for one reason or another enrolled in distance learning courses. These courses were by correspondence, meaning that students had to complete assignments and then send them off to their instructors via snail mail. Online courses have replaced the correspondence courses of yesteryear, so students no longer have to endure this painfully slow process.
In the United States, there are more than six million online students, according to a 2011 survey by the Sloan Consortium and the Babson Survey Research Group. Although the quality of online courses has significantly improved over the years, online learning still is not a good fit for everyone. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether or not online education is appropriate for you:
- You do not mind getting limited feedback from your instructor. You will interact with your professor online and sometimes even by telephone, but you will not be able to have face-to-face meetings unless you live near the university.
- You are comfortable with technology. If you want to take an online course, you need to have basic computer skills and know your way around the web. You also need access to a decent Internet connection.
- You work well independently. If you savor the thought of working at your own pace, you will love online learning. Online courses offer unmatched flexibility, enabling you to set your own schedule and study wherever and whenever you please. Online classes also allow you to pursue your studies while raising kids, working, and keeping up with life’s other responsibilities.
- Having little to no interaction with your peers does not bother you. Interacting with peers is one of the highlights of the college experience that you will miss out on if you pursue an online degree. You will have limited opportunities to connect with your classmates, but some online programs do use chat rooms and online conferencing tools to encourage collaboration and interaction.
Online learning is an excellent way to pursue a higher education while juggling the various commitments of adulthood, but it may or may not be right for you. An effective way to determine whether online education is a good fit is by thinking about the issues that you may confront as an online student. The above points are a good place to start!
View our infographic on the history of distance learning to learn more about the evolution of online education.