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Online Learning: Advantages and Disadvantages

Updated on July 27, 2013

Online Learning: What is it?

The idea of online learning is to allow the learner to take a class, course, or an entire degree program from the convenience of their own computer. It involves a personal computer, good internet service, an e-mail account, and other various computer software, such as Microsoft Office.

To be successful at online learning, one must know how to manage their time well. With online learning, you still have deadlines, but without the commitment of being in an actual classroom at a certain time.

My Master's degree was completed online, with an intern/correspondence component. I finished it in two years, taking one class a quarter. I have also taken several graduate level classes online to keep my teaching license current. In addition, I have taught a beginners online college class for a university.

Before considering if an online class and/or a degree is right for you, read up on the following advantages and disadvantages first!

Advantages of Online Learning

  • Convenience is the first thing that we think of when we take an online class or degree program. We are able to access our class anywhere, as long as we have a computer and internet. We can work our classroom hours around our own schedule and our family.
  • Independence and freedom from the traditional classroom. Many people want to break away from the desk and chalkboard style of learning. They want a little freedom to learn at a pace that's comfortable for them. They also like the idea of working on their own and coming up with their own ideas.
  • Comfort with communicating. There are many people who are intimidated with sharing their ideas and talking in front of a large group of people. In an online class, we can gather our thoughts first and put them in writing. It allows for ease of a conversation, and a much more detailed learning experience.
  • One on one with the instructor. In a traditional school, instructors have office hours. This is generally the same with online learning; however, with online learning, you get more one on one feedback with assignments, as well as frequent e-mail communication. Typically, the online classroom can range anywhere from 2-20 students, so it is much more manageable for the instructor to work with students directly.
  • Long distance friendships. Although making friends isn't usually at the top of a person's list when it comes to online schooling, it IS possible to create great relationships with the people in your classroom. Because they are from all over the world, you gain a lot more diverse knowledge and a more enriched learning experience.


Disadvantages of Online Learning

  • Poor internet service can hinder the online learning experience considerably. One should have access to a high speed or broadband internet before beginning a class. I actually completed my Master's degree with Dial-up and I ran into challenges frequently.
  • Losing power or a hit and miss satellite can cause frustrations. If you have a computer that uses electricity and you lose power for a period of time, access to your classes can become difficult. You would have to have a Plan B, and the ability to get to another computer in a timely fashion. If your satellite internet has frequent interruptions, again, you would have to make sure a Plan B is in place.
  • Lack of direct social contact. Sometimes, this can be a problem for people because you can learn a vast number of social skills through the social contact in a traditional school. Although online learning can utilize "group" work too, it is less frequent, and you are more on your own. Sometimes, this causes students to feel isolated.
  • Feeling like your class/program is not "good enough." I've run into this on several occasions and students will feel like they are not feeling like their online education is worth as much as a traditional one. In addition, people fear that employers will look down on them if they have an online degree. Online education is becoming more of the norm. From personal experience, I have never had a negative experience with my Master's degree being an online program.
  • Inability to successfully manage your time. Online education takes self-discipline. One must be able to set aside periods of time during their week to work on the classwork. They must still meet deadlines for assignments. Since online education is more independent, some students feel it is easier to procrastinate.

Have you ever taken a class online?

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Do Your Research!

It is important to know that both traditional classes and online ones are generally the same in cost. There is financial aid available for both traditional and online degree programs as well.

For online classes, your textbooks are usually electronic.

Finally, when thinking about pursuing an online education, one should look into the various schools and colleges available. Some are branches of major universities, while others are entirely online schools. You should be able to request information for free, as well as openly talk to a representative by phone or e-mail. Stay away from programs that don't answer your questions completely, or tell you the price of the classes upfront.

Overall, I have found online learning to be a rewarding experience, from a student and teacher perspective. I hope this information has been helpful to you in making your decision.


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    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi Deborah-Diane,

      I agree with you! Convenience is the biggest reason people opt for online. Many of us are juggling so much at once!

      I also received my Masters online. It was well with it!

      Thanks for reading!

    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      I have taken an online class, which I enjoyed, and one of our daughters got her Master's Degree online. It has been an innovation which has really helped a lot of people!

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi ologsinquito,

      Yes, you are right, and the more options the better. More people need convenience and the internet provides that. Thanks for reading!

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      This is a trend that's not going to go away. It's good to have options and when it comes to education, the more options the better.

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Thank you for reading!!!

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi Eddy! Thank you for reading!!!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and useful and I now look forward to so many more .Eddy.

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 4 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi mbuggieh,

      I also have had students tell me that they appreciate my feedback and getting back to them so promptly. It really does mean a lot.

      I always enjoyed the discussions the most and where I taught, we were required to respond to every student, and continue the discussion by asking more thought provoking questions.

      Thanks for reading!!!

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 4 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi Au fait,

      I can agree that sometimes the instructors are not as responsive as they should be. Where I taught, it was required that we respond to students within 48 hours, preferably within 24. I always made it within 24. In addition, we had 48 hours to post grades and feedback for assignments.

      On the other hand, I have taken some classes and it would take over a week to hear back from and instructor. Very frustrating.

      Thanks for reading!!

    • profile image

      mbuggieh 4 years ago

      I've spent about the last 12 years teaching online AND taking classes online.

      And so speaking as an instructor the greatest DISADVANTAGE is not being able to meet face-to-face with students.

      As a student the greatest DISADVANTAGE is being hung out of dry by instructors who think they're job is to do little more than occasionally grade work and not to participate in discussions, offer feedback, encouragement, etc.

      And all too often my own students tell me that I am the rare and exceptional online instructor who does engage and participate; who makes them feel part of something; who has not left them out to dry.

      In terms of ADVANTAGES as an instructor and student: The opportunity for informed and thoughtful discussion and through it the creation of authentic and meaningful learning..

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      I took several classes online sponsored by my university, and in different subjects. They are more convenient most of the time. The one thing that I found that could be a negative is that sometimes teaching assistants were as good at responding to inquiries as the should have been. Otherwise, my experience was great. I think if handled correctly, classroom discussion can actually be better since people don't actually have to face other people and speak up in front of others. There really is no such thing as anonymity online, but a lot of people don't seem to realize that and have more confidence because they feel protected from direct observation.

      A lot of my classes that took place in the classroom also had online components.

      Voted up!

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 4 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Hi FlourishAnyway,

      Thank you for reading! Yes, I agree that it all depends on your own personal needs and situation. Often, online learning caters to those who have a lot of outside commitments, such as work and family. I have also noticed that some people choose online education if they cannot commute to a school, or a school is not nearby. Again, all situations are different.

      Appreciate your comment!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      You capture the advantages and disadvantages of on-line education. Although I personally wouldn't take college-level classes outside of a brick and mortar environment because the interaction can be so superior in person, I have taken certification classes on-line and did enjoy it. It just depends on what your needs, personal situation, schedule, etc. allows for. Good hub.