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Online Education: A Worthwhile Experience

Updated on March 24, 2012

It is becoming more popular for people to earn degrees through distance learning, whether it be from an online university or by taking online courses through a regular university. Taking an online course or program provides much more flexibility than attending a lecture in person. You can do most of the work on your own time, when you are available to do it, and there is usually a schedule of deadlines to follow. There are bachelor's programs, post-baccalaureate programs, master's programs, and certification programs available to be taken online in various subject areas. Having these programs available at your fingertips can be a great motivator for continuing your education.

As there are many benefits to having these programs available online, there are also downsides to completing strictly internet based courses. Here is a list of positives and negatives that I have found throughout my online educational experience:

Positives

1. Flexibility
That's the big one. If you are as busy as I was when I started the program, or even busier, you will find it extremely beneficial to be able to continue your education on your own time. The program that I took at Western Governors University allowed for me to complete my teacher licensure program as well as my master's within 2 1/2 years, all while I was working full-time and at another point I was even working 2 jobs. Everything within that program was available to be completed when I was ready to work on it.

2. Cost
Attending a college or university can be very heavy on your pocket, especially if you aren't eligible to receive any type of aid. I've spoken to friends who are currently registered in a master's program through a regular university and the expenses they are facing are much higher than what I paid attending WGU. At WGU, a single semester (which was 6 months in length) cost me around $2,500. I did have to pay for my own books, but having the option to purchase all of the books from the internet by using amazon or ebay made it much cheaper than having to get specific textbooks from the college or university that would normally be required.

3. Support/Motivational
Obviously you would think that attending a regular classroom with a professor available in person would make it much more motivational as well as support ready. But, in my opinion, I actually found the online university to offer more in those areas. I attended a university for my bachelor's degree, and I was one of many in my lecture halls and labs. I rarely spoke to my professors and therefore did not have much outside support or motivation other than self-motivation and the support of my classmates. Throughout my time at WGU (where I completed my master's online), I had an appointment to speak with my mentor once every 2 weeks at the same time to not only discuss what I had completed in the last two weeks, but to also set goals for the upcoming 2 weeks. I found this to be incredibly motivational and she was always there for support and to answer any questions I had at any time. I could e-mail her and I would always receive a response back. She wasn't my professor, so any content-based questions regarding my courses would have had to be taken to the professors themselves, but, she did help to keep me on track and to reach my goals every week. If it were not for those appointments, I would have probably never completed the program in such a timely manner, and I most likely would have had to do most of the work at the last minute. I am very thankful for the support that WGU offers with their programs.

Negatives

1. No In-Person Professor
When doing anything online, you are never in contact with a live person face-to-face. The professors, mentors, and anyone else involved in the program will only be able to be reached through the telephone, forums, or e-mail. For some, this can be a huge demotivator or may even be a main reason as to not even bother with an internet-based program. If you are an active learner and always like to participate in class, then online schooling is probably not for you. Most of the learning is done on your own time, using your own materials. There are occasional webinars to participate in as well as conference calls, but for some this may not be enough.

2. Flexibility
Depending on the person, this could be a huge plus or a big negative when attempting to get work done. Some people like a strict schedule to follow in order to complete assignments. Keep in mind, though, that the flexibility can be controlled by you. If you want a strict schedule, then you can go ahead and make one for yourself. You don't have to see this as a negative. That's the point in being able to complete things on your own time, in your own way. You can decide how often you will work and when you complete the assignments.

3. Motivation
Just like the last 2 listed above, this is dependant on the person. Having so much flexibility in when the work can be done can make it easy to come up with an excuse to procrastinate. Getting the work done is strictly on you to set a time to complete it by and turn it in. There may be a deadline for an assignment or just a deadline to complete the entire course, but it is up to you to not wait until the last minute. The motivational factor will probably also depend on the program you sign up with. I am not familiar with the routine of other internet-based schools, only WGU, so I am not sure if other schools provide a mentor to call every once in a while to check up on progress. Having that additional support was definitely a push for me to get the work done. If a school does not offer something along those lines, then maybe you should search out another school.

When researching an online-based school to complete a degree or certification program, make sure you find out what they have to offer that other online schools do not. Think about what you would need in a program to make it work for you, such as, motivational support or contact with your professors. Personally, I feel that choosing WGU was a great decision and I was fortunate enough to complete the entire program in a short time. I think most people can probably do well with an online school, just as long as they have the motivation to get the work done. If you need a little extra "push" then set a schedule for yourself and be strict with it.

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