Online Education: What You Need to Know
Students today have all kinds of online learning opportunities. You
can take an entire degree program or enroll in a single course to add to your
But when we talk about online education, it is important to understand
Types of Online Courses
Synchronous: Synchronous classes are live. They offer a structured
learning environment in which you and your fellow students are all online
at a certain time to watch presentations or participate in discussions. You
interact with your instructor and peers via text or livestream video.
Asynchronous: Asynchronous classes do not happen in real time. Instead,
they feature prerecorded lectures and self-guided assignments. This allows
for more flexibility, since you can access course materials and work on assignments
as your schedule permits. The instructor is tupically reachable for feedback
and guidance, but you complete the course at your own pace.
Hybrid: Hybrid or blended courses combine in-person instruction
with online learning. For instance, you might study from home two or three
days a week and come to campus on the remaining days. Or in programs like
nursing that require supervised hands-on work, you might do the written part
online but then go to a hospital or other workplace to complete your practicum.
Advantages of Online Education
There are many advantages to online education. You're not limited by geography,
so you can take a course from a school thousands of miles away. With asynchronous
classes, you can also study at your own pace and fit coursework around your
work or family commitments.
Also, some students are shy about speaking up in classrooms. Some are afraid
to ask questions in case they look "stupid." With online learning, you can
ask questions and "speak up" by private chat.
There is another advantage. Your fellow students are likely to live in
other locations, or even in other countries. They have different cultures
and different ideas. This allows you to have a truly international learning
Studying online can also be cheaper. Tuition costs may be similar, but
if you're not commuting to campus, you won't have expenses like gas, parking,
vehicle maintenance, or transit passes. You also won't have to move to a new
city or pay for a dorm room or campus meal plan.
Disadvantages of Online Education
There are some disadvantages to online education. For one thing, not everyone
has a great technical setup. Slow internet connections can pose problems for
some people, especially those that have to rely on public Wi-Fi. Latency issues
can make it hard to keep up with video chats.
Another challenge is that online learning requires a great deal of self-discipline.
Some students find it difficult to stay motivated and focused without the
structure of a traditional classroom environment.
But the greatest con is that online education can be isolating. If you
enjoy the experience of hanging out with your classmates and maybe going for
pizza with them, you may not like it when the only interactions you get are
through videoconferencing platforms.
Questions to Ask
Students considering online education are smart to do some research before
enrolling. Start by asking yourself:
- Are you organized and self-disciplined? With no one telling you when and
where to study, you need to be able to hold yourself accountable. Time management
is key here. You also need to know how to minimize distractions--for instance,
by leaving your phone in another room while you study.
- Do you have basic computer skills? You don't have to be a technical whiz,
but you should be able to navigate the internet and create and save files
with ease. Many online courses provide training on the specific learning management
system and videoconferencing platforms they use.
You also need to get information about any specific school you're considering.Find
- Is the school accredited? If a U.S. college grants a degree and claims
to be accredited, check with the U.S. Department of Education or the Council
of Higher Education Accreditation. Find out if these bodies recognize the
- Can you get financial aid? You may be eligible for the same financial
aid as if you were taking all your classes on campus. Contact the college's
financial aid counselor for details.
- What is the school's refund policy? Read the contract carefully to see
what is included and what is not. Find out when you can cancel and what fees
would be involved.
- Who hires the school's graduates? Check the school website for information
on graduate employment rates. Approach employers you'd like to work for and
ask if they hire graduates of that school.
So is Online Education for You?
Self-motivated people who can manage their time and commit to a program
will do well in an online course. The experts agree that the skills you develop
in online learning will serve you well for the rest of your life.
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation
This organization recognizes accreditation agencies. It has a
database of accredited schools in the U.S.
- U.S. Department of Education
Provides information about accreditation and accredited schools
in the U.S.