Whether it's a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)
or a tuition-based online degree program, distance learning is increasing
in popularity, especially for people pursuing graduate degrees. Today's technology
and tools make online education more convenient than ever, and several top
schools offer courses identical, or nearly identical, to their on-campus counterparts.
proud of the fact that we've done online learning in a very integrated way
so students receive the same benefits and support services as students-in-residence,"
says Karen Pollack. She's the assistant vice provost for Pennsylvania State
University's Undergraduate Online and Blended Programs at Penn State Online,
The World Campus.
"Online education is definitely influencing the
traditional classroom experience," says Deanna Raineri, associate provost
for Educational Innovation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"We see much more blending of courses. A lot of the course content is online,
and students work through it independently or in groups with the oversight/assistance
of an instructor or teaching assistant, and instructors use the in-class time
to focus on discussion, case studies, teamwork, etc."
want to pursue a bachelor's degree, an MBA, or simply earn a certificate to
help advance your career, you'll need to weigh the same pros and cons before
deciding if an online program is for you.
Convenience is a big reason
to study online. Perhaps you live on the west coast, but the university with
the best program for your major is on the east coast, and you can't afford
to relocate. Maybe a disability or physical condition makes getting to and
from campus difficult. Or maybe you plan to work while earning your degree
and need a flexible schedule.
Whatever the reason, studying online
only works if you're focused and motivated.
"A student in an online
class has to take far more responsibility for his or her learning," Raineri
says. "Students with poor time management skills may struggle in online courses.
Students who register for our online courses under the false impression that
they are a diluted version of the face-to-face courses often struggle in those
courses." She says online classes are as rigorous as those taught in traditional
To some extent, students study at their own pace, but online
course schedules tend to keep pace with their on-campus counterparts.
have courses that run in the traditional 15-week format, particularly at the
undergraduate level," Pollack says. "That's done to be in compliance and make
sure students are Federal-financial -aid eligible. However, in some key areas
we do have programs that run in a more accelerated format where they may take
two 7-1/2-week semesters."
At schools like Penn State and University
of Illinois, tuition for online degree programs is comparable with traditional
campus programs. Penn State Online is priced at the in-state rate, which means
considerable cost savings for out-of-state and international students.
is also often flexibility in choosing what you want from a program and paying
accordingly. For example, starting in 2016, in addition to its 13 free, noncredit
courses, University of Illinois will offer an iMBA degree in partnership with
Coursera. You can opt to take iMBA courses for free, but won't receive a degree
or certificate upon completion. As with their other online courses, for a
small fee you can enroll to earn a verified certificate, or you can apply
for a for-credit iMBA with enhanced studies, which at $250 per credit hour
plus fees, is a fraction of the cost of a traditional MBA.
and Pollack both suggest doing plenty of homework before enrolling in any
online degree program.
"Consider the history and reputation of the
university - do companies hire graduates from this particular institution?
Are courses taught by tenured faculty? What does the program's student and
technology support structure look like? Does the program offer a comprehensive
online orientation? These are just a few questions for online students to
consider when selective a course or program," Raineri says.
adds, "Find out the rank or standing of their online institution. How is it
accredited? Is it part of an institution that is state-supported or has a
public service and research mission? Those factors can have implications on
the reputation or standing of the program. It's getting to the issue: is it
for-profit, or does it have a broader mission?"