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Pros and Cons of Online College Courses

Updated on September 29, 2015
VirginiaLynne profile image

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

Online College Classes

If you've been considering taking online College Courses, you aren't alone. More and more traditional colleges are adding online courses to their catalog. Many colleges offer a whole degree online.

Should You Take Online College Classes?


Are Online College Classes Worth it?

Sometimes online college courses are the same price as ones you might take on campus, but sometimes they are even more expensive. Are they worth it? What are the pros and cons of online college education? Do you really learn the same as you would in a regular classroom?

Traditional College is Best, but Online Colleges allow Everyone to Get a Degree.

As a professor at a large private University, I have to say that no online college can give students the life changing experience they get in residence at an excellent college. 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 have a chance at a college education. Moreover, even after you have completed a degree or are in a job, online college classes let you continue to learn, grow and improve.

Pros and Cons of Online College Classes at a Glance

Pros Online College Classes
Cons Online College Classes
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

Use Computer, iPad, Android, or Smartphone for College Online Classes

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 Pros of Online College Classes

1. Convenient: Probably the greatest benefit of taking online college classes is that you can go to class and study at your own schedule. You don't have to get dressed up for class, 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 to a campus, search for a parking place, and try to find something productive to do while you are waiting between classes. Taking college classes online saves a lot of time in the week that could be used much more productively to actually learn the material. All of your time in online classes is dedicated to the class and getting the information you need.

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

4. Go to College While You Work: Many people who have to work to support themselves or a family can't fit traditional college classes into their schedule. With online College Classes, you have the freedom to do your college work around the rest of your schedule, and to take fewer classes for a while if you have a period of increased responsibility at work.

5. Personalized Help from Instructor: Many classes at a traditional college, 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. Online instructors are easier to talk to because all you need to do is to send an email or message them online through the college website. Most online college instructors are skilled at helping you to master the course material and can offer you personalized instruction.

6. Online Discussions Allow Everyone to Participate: Many Online College Courses include a chance for all the students in the class to participate in an online discussion. Sometimes this includes commenting on something the instructor has asked you to discuss, and at other times online discussion is based on student questions. Some College Online Courses include "real time" discussions too. One limitation of a regular class discussion 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 Classes 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. Online College learning allows you to take just as many classes as you can handle at one time, and often also allows you to take courses over the summer, and 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 college classes outside your home. Online College Classes allow you to start or continue your degree while still taking care of your family. Even more importantly, Online learning can give caregivers a chance to make relationships, learn, and fulfill personal goals, all of which makes their care-giving responsibilities less stressful.

9. People with Physical Challenges can Attend College. In spite of mandatory accommodations laws, a traditional college can still be difficult for a person with physical, health or learning challenges. An Online College can make a college degree more flexible and easier to obtain.

10. Cost: Private, for-profit online colleges can be expensive, but for the most part, online college classes will cost you less than comparable classes at a brick and mortar college. You will pay less in tuition and also less in fees. You also save money on commuting, parking fees and potential lost money from work or money you would have to pay for child care or moving. Overall, online college classes are usually a bargain.Moreover, you can get the same sort of tuition assistance for online college classes that you can for any other college.

Online College Classes Success Story

5 Cons of Online College Classes

1. Scheduling: Although taking classes and 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 at work and home take away from your class and study time. 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 clearly shows, online colleges are increasing dramatically and so is the acceptance of online degrees. However, employers and other people may still not regard a degree earned entirely online as the same as a degree earned at a traditional college. What can you do about this? It might be best to go to a college which also has a traditional program. Some diplomas don't indicate whether the degree was earned online or not. If you go for an all online college, be sure it is one that is accredited and has a good reputation.

4. Interaction: Many online college classes include interaction online or in a virtual classroom, and I know from personal experience that people you meet online can become close friends and you can have very meaningful interactions and discussions. However, it isn't easy. Moreover, 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.

5. Computer and Internet: The only thing certain about computers and Internet connections is that at some point they will cause you trouble! For success in taking online college classes 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 class, read and respond to emails, participate in online class discussions, and submit your work. In some classes, you will need to set up a web camera and Skype or video conferencing. While it might be possible to take an online class using the computers available at public libraries, it would probably not be easy to do so.

Cons of Online Classes: 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

Should You Take Online College Courses?

In the end, the pros of online college classes outweigh the potential cons. If you have the time, money and opportunity to go to a traditional college, that will probably offer you more than an online college class because there is a lot learned outside the classroom. However, for many people there is not that choice. In that case, online college courses can be a great option to start, continue, or finish a college degree.

Even better, online courses can allow you to brush up on old skills or learn new ones. My children are enjoying learning Mandarin for credit through an online course now. That is not an opportunity they would have otherwise. My husband and I have each enjoyed taking online courses in our hobbies of art and music.

I've included several videos which give the perspective of people taking online college classes and their experience. If you have taken college classes online, or even finished a degree online, please leave a comment below to share your experience and tips!

Overview of Online College Degrees


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    • bestonlineschools profile image

      Best Online Schools 2 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 image

      Virginia Kearney 3 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) 3 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 image

      Virginia Kearney 3 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

      lily 3 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 4 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 image

      Virginia Kearney 4 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 4 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

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      Jim Higgins 4 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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