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Pros and Cons of Online College Courses

Updated on May 12, 2017
VirginiaLynne profile image

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

How to Choose

Is an online college worth it? While convenient, prices can be expensive. This article helps you choose.


What You Need to Know

Having been a college educator for over 20 years, I have to say that no online college can give students they get at a residential university.

However, not everyone can afford the time and money for that sort of an experience. That is the best part of online college classes: they allow anyone, anywhere in the world to gain a chance at higher education. Moreover, even after you have completed a degree or are in a job, online classes let you continue to learn, grow and improve.

Pros and Cons at a Glance

convenient courses
don't get campus experience
do classes at own pace
need good computer connection
take as many or few classes as you want
need to be self-motivated
no commute or parking fees
sometimes limited classes
go to class in P.J.s!
reputation of degree not always the same
get to know people from all over world
don't learn to speak in front of others
personal help from instructor
less informal interaction with classmates
generally lower tuition and fewer fees
hard to self-pace learning
don't have to relocate
don't have college library or study area
can take degrees not at local college
not all degrees available
can get to know people in online discussion
less help for people with learning disabilities
tuition assistance and scholarships
distractions at home
can suppliment traditional college classes
others may not take your college work as seriously
take courses to train for something new at work
working alone can be difficult
parents can stay home and take college classes
computer and internet problems
caregivers can learn and meet people from home
classes heavy on reading and writing
can use information on internet and media for enhanced learning
don't make as many connections with employers
classes often enhance computer skills
may have limited or delayed access to instructor help or feedback
online college classes can be combined with traditional classes
requires some computer skill to take classes
growth of online schooling means more acceptance
need to make sure program is accredited
Typing on keyboard.  Many people are more comfortable participating through writing rather than speaking because it gives them time to think of their answer.
Typing on keyboard. Many people are more comfortable participating through writing rather than speaking because it gives them time to think of their answer. | Source

10 Reasons Online College is Best

1. Convenient: Probably the greatest benefit is that you can make your own schedule. You don't have to get dressed up, and you can study, listen to lectures, and participate in online class discussions at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., whichever works best for you!

2. Saves Time: You don't have to drive, search for a parking place, and try to find something productive to do while you are waiting between classes. That saves a lot of time in the week that could be used much more productively to actually learn the material. All of your time for your education will is dedicated to getting the information you need.

3. No Need to Relocate: If you go to a traditional campus, you will need to move close enough to attend regularly, or else commute. With an online college, you can work anywhere you have a computer connection. Moreover, if you need to move for a job or other reason, you won't interrupt your program. That is particularly helpful if you are in a job or life situation which requires you to travel or move periodically.

4. Get an Education While You Work: Many people who have to work to support themselves or a family can't fit traditional education into their schedule. With online, you have the freedom to do your studies in the midst of your work and also reduce your course load when you are too busy with other responsibilities.

5. Personalized Help: Many courses at a traditional university, especially at the beginning level, are taught as large lectures. The professor may not even know your name, and it can be complicated to meet them at office hours. In an online class, the instructor's job is teaching, not research. When you need help, all you need to do is to send an email or message them through the website. Most are skilled at helping you to master the course material and can offer you personalized instruction.

6. Online Discussions Allow Everyone to Participate: Often there is a chance for all the students to participate in a written discussion. Sometimes this includes commenting on a question, lecture or reading or perhaps the students post questions. Some classes include "real time" discussions too. One limitation in a traditional setting is that there is only time for a few people to speak on any topic. Frequently, the less bold people may not speak often or at all. In an online discussion, everyone can speak and take as long as they need to in order to decide what they want to say.

7. Take at Your Own Pace: Whether you have work or home responsibilities, or even learning disabilities, many people can benefit by taking one or just a few classes at a time, rather than a full load. All Internet learning allows you to take just as much as you can handle at one time, and often also allows you to spread your education out over the summer, not just fall and winter.

8. Moms and Caretakers Can Go to College: If you are taking care of small children, or are responsible for an elderly loved one or special needs child or adult, you may simply not be able to attend anything outside of your home. Online learning lets you start or continue your degree while still taking care of your family. Even more importantly, it can give caregivers a chance to make relationships, learn, and fulfill personal goals, all of which makes their caregiving responsibilities less stressful.

9. People with Physical Challenges can Attend: In spite of mandatory accommodations laws, a traditional university can still be difficult for a person with physical, health or learning challenges. Using a computer makes a degree more flexible and easier to obtain.

10. Cost: Private, for-profit degrees can be expensive, but for the most part, choosing to get your education online will cost you less than comparable classes at a brick and mortar school. You will pay less in tuition and also less in fees. You also save money on commuting, parking fees and potentially lost money from work or money you would have to pay for child care or moving. Overall, this method of getting an education is often a bargain. Moreover, you can often get the same sort of tuition assistance that you can for any other school.

5 Reasons Online College May Not Be a Best Choice

1. Scheduling: Although studying at home is convenient, it also places a lot of burden on the student to make and keep a schedule. That can be difficult to do, especially if distractions of responsibilities interfere. Other people may find it hard to remember that you are in school when you don't leave the house. Moreover, they may tend to take your studies less seriously and be less inclined to let you off the hook when they want to watch a movie or talk with you.

2. Motivation: Going to college is hard work and keeping up with the reading, writing and other assignments takes a lot of self-discipline. Many students at traditional colleges rely on the promptings of their instructors and the help of other students to study for a test or finish a paper. Even if you have an online chat room, you will probably need to do most of your studying alone, and if you have a question, you will need to wait for an emailed answer from your instructor, you can't just catch them before or after class.

3. Reputation: As the chart below clearly shows, online colleges are increasing dramatically and so is the acceptance of their degrees. However, employers and other people may still not regard an education earned entirely online the same as a degree earned at a traditional school. What can you do about this? It might be best to go to a school which also has a traditional program. Some diplomas don't indicate whether the degree was earned online or not. If you go to an all online college, be sure it is one that is accredited and has a good reputation. It can help to talk with people in the profession you are training for to find out if degrees from that school are accepted.

4. Interaction: Most of us have Internet friends and meaningful interactions and discussions. However, it isn't easy. Moreover, you won't have casual interactions I see every day in my traditional college classroom as students talk while they wait for me to get started, or get so interested in discussing a point that they decide to continue the conversation at our local coffee shop. In addition, you may not have the same access to your instructor as you would if you saw them two or three times a week in class. A few of my students who decided to take the second half of my course online over the summer at a local community college had a terrible experience because they felt they had no help from the instructor or interaction with the rest of the class.

5. Technical Difficulties: The only thing certain about computers and Internet connections is that at some point they will cause you trouble! For success, you will need both a reliable computer and a reliable, fast, Internet connection. Additionally, you will need to have some basic computer skills, which includes at least understanding how to access the materials, read and respond to emails, participate in discussions, and submit your work. In some situations, you will need to set up a web camera and Skype or video conferencing. While it might be possible to use the computers available at public libraries, it would probably not be easy to do so.

Con: You Miss Campus Experience

Students talking as they walk out of class.
Students talking as they walk out of class. | Source

Online College Facts

Degrees earned completely online (2007-2008)
4% (2007-2008)
Online learners are
more involved in class, participated more in discussions, understood other cultures better and had a deeper understanding of coursework
Percent of People with Speech Anxiety about speaking in class?
Percent of college students taking at least 1 online course in 2010
Students who took an online course in 2010
6.1 million
Increase in Enrollment in Online classes in 2010
Increase in Enrollment in Traditional Colleges in 2010
Most Popular Online Courses
Business, Computer Information Systems and Health
Percent of Academic Professionals who rate online classes as equal or superior to traditional classes
Information from: "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011" by Sloan Consortium, National Insitute of Health Study on Speech Anxiety, and national Center for Education Statistics for 2007-2008

A Good Choice?

For many people, pros probably outweigh the cons. If you have the time, money and opportunity to go to a traditional college, you will frankly probably learn a lot more. However, if you don't have that choice, you can get a good, useful degree online.

Even better, these classes can allow you to brush up on old skills or learn new ones. Moreover, these sorts of classes can also help students who want to take a subject not offered. My own children took Mandarin, Speech, and Geometry while in high school. My husband and I have each enjoyed learning about crafts, music, computer programming, and other subjects.

If you have an experience to share, leave a comment!


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    • bestonlineschools profile image

      Best Online Schools 

      4 years ago from UK

      Online classes can be great if one manage to make his timetable fit into other daily activities. Great Hub Virginia.

    • profile image

      Megan Vickery 

      5 years ago

      I found this article quite intriguing, though I am blessed and have the opportunity to attend a well accredited university. It is nice to see the doors that have been opened for education through the furthering advances in technology. In addition, the chart really helped to bring the attention of both sides regarding an online degree.

    • profile image

      Annalise Pequette 

      5 years ago

      This is a great article that really weighs the two options. I especially enjoyed the charts and the facts about online college. Online courses might be something to consider for the future!

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      5 years ago from Pune, India

      Thank you for sharing this information. This is very useful for students. A well written and well explained hub, I am going to share with my Hub followers.

    • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Kearney 

      5 years ago from United States

      I agree, Daniel, that traditional education offers a lot of interaction with other people which you can't duplicate in any online setting. Every time I see students at my college walking across campus together or talking by the stairs with another professor, I am reminded of the ways in which we learn informally through those sorts of conversations. However, I was glad my own children were able to take an online class in Chinese before our trip to China. They had a greater appreciation for the culture they saw there.

    • profile image

      Daniel Nord (1302-34) 

      5 years ago

      Online college courses are great in a lot of situations, many of which you mentioned above. For those people who are in situations where learning at a traditional institution is not a viable option, those who have an inflexible work schedule, and those who want to supplement their education or learn in areas of interest, online courses are an excellent option.

      The growing trend of people taking online courses is not too surprising. Face-to-face communication, or even telephonic communication, seems to be decreasingly common with the rise of social media and text messaging. Online classes seem to be a logical extension.

      To be fair, I have never taken an online course myself, but it seems that traditional college education includes outside of the classroom interactions with professors and peers and develops interpersonal skills and character that cannot be matched through the use of online courses. Although online courses are a viable option in many situations and for many people, I would not encourage a person who is able to afford and attend a traditional institution to forgo the experience in exchange for an online one.

    • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Kearney 

      6 years ago from United States

      Lily--Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I think that online college classes are great for many reasons but I do think that the one on one with the instructor and the group discussion with classmates in person is a very different and valuable part of education. I'm very glad that there are options which let people work and go to school, but I do think that attending a traditional classroom has benefits which go beyond the quality of the teaching.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The most difficult thing that I find while tIl aking courses online is that you don't get involved with research if it's beneficial for you to in the future. Interaction with instructors is more brief. I go to Florida Techonline and went to several traditiknal schools. The fast pace of our eight week online course suits my attention span, but limits the amt of time spent delving into each topic. Teachers who post related material to the text to talk about on the msg boards helps me more than a related topic that doesn't really make you keep referring to outside sources and the text. If that even makes sense. I can say that my writing, reading, ressarch and communication skills have greatly improved since I started.

    • mpropp profile image

      Melissa Propp 

      6 years ago from Minnesota

      Nice summary, giving us the pros and cons. Back when I went to college, the on-line courses were not available. Now, I think that I would definitely take courses that I thought would provide additional skills and I would appreciate the fact that I can fit the course around work and home life. Thanks for the thorough review.

    • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Kearney 

      6 years ago from United States

      Miss Olive--thanks for your comment. A lot of the information about online colleges on the web is written by for-profit colleges and so it tends to gloss over the differences a bit. I do think online colleges are a wonderful resource for many people, but as I thought about this Hub, I realized that those courses are not the same as what I teach in a traditional classroom. The information is the same and if you have a really caring instructor, you can certainly make a lot of progress in the subject, but I don't think the online discussion environment makes it as easy to create meaningful interactions with other students. So, I think it is very important to be aware that you have to work extra hard to make online classes what you want them to be.

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Great review and presentation of the pros and cons. I've been evaluating programs and I am seriously considering online courses in the near future. This will come in handy to many. I think the biggest con for me would be the lack of true interaction and discussion, I relish those learning moments. Useful info, thanks, MO

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      6 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      This is great Victoria! I know that it is now and will be even more so in the future an alternative to on campus education. I have heard that some prestigious colleges offer online courses for greatly reduced rates. Apparently, you can get a certificate for completing, but no real grade or college credit.

      Interesting information and good comparative charts too.


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