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Why to Choose Online College Classes

Updated on July 30, 2013
Taking classes online can involve a lot of hands-on computer time
Taking classes online can involve a lot of hands-on computer time | Source

The first online class I took was in 2000. The concept of distance education wasn’t new, but it still mostly consisted of self-paced classes or some sort of video and TV broadcast with assignments turned in by mail or by having to go to a central location. The online class I took was really just a slightly different format of those; we emailed the work to our instructor, and she forwarded it to other students so we could have a “discussion.” It was a total disaster.

But times, and technology, have changed. Nowadays online classes are all the rage, and schools either use a premade learning management system (LMS) like Blackboard or Moodle or they develop their own. Because of this shift to the online world, a lot of students find themselves taking online classes. But are they really the right choice for everyone?

Scheduling

This plays a huge factor in students choosing to take online classes. If you have to work an off-hours shift or often work double shifts, being at school at certain times can be hard. People who have overtime on a regular basis have the same problem. Child care is another issue that comes up when it comes to scheduling. How can you juggle all those things? Well, you can choose an online class. But remember that while it might fit into the schedule you have, you still need to schedule time for it. You can’t just assume that it will fit; you have to make it fit.

Distance

Driving takes time. Driving also takes money – gas isn’t cheap, nor is upkeep on cars. And if you’re relying on public transportation, then you have the double whammy of delays and cost per trip (unless you’re lucky and can buy a monthly pass). Whatever way you travel, though, you’re going to have to spend time and money. This is a big deal when it comes to attending classes if they are too far away. Years ago I took night classes at a university. I would leave my house at 4 in the afternoon, grab dinner on the way, and be there by 6 so I could avoid most of the traffic. Yes, you read that right – two hours include grabbing quick food on the way. I would have taken that class online in an instant if it was offered; the trade off with the time alone would make it worthwhile for me.

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Program/Class Availability

Sometimes classes aren’t available at the campus or time you need. Other times, there just isn’t a program like that anywhere near where you live. When I was searching for a Master’s degree in English Literature, there were only two in area, and neither one interested me. The one I liked best was over 2,000 miles away. On top of that, many students like to try to attend some classes at community colleges to gain credit hours for less money than a university would charge them.

Compressed Time (Sometimes)

Traditional classes are generally a full semester – that means 16 weeks in the spring and fall, and anywhere from five to 11 weeks over the summer, depending on the school and schedule. Online classes, however, often tend to be compressed all year round. Instead of having full semesters, you may have five or six-week classes, one after the other. You may take only one or two classes at a time instead of the traditional full-time load of 12 hours or more (the equivalent of four or more classes). Because of this, you can often complete a degree more quickly, but the trade-off is that you will be spending a lot of your time on those classes. Instead of having a month to complete a project, you may have one or two weeks. If you fall behind, it’s hard to catch up because the class is over before you’ve even had a chance to blink. Not all online classes are compressed, but even those that aren’t will often have additional work to make up for the time that you would spend in the classroom that you have to do on your own.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Stephens, is one of many service members taking college classes while being currently deployed to Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Stephens, is one of many service members taking college classes while being currently deployed to Afghanistan. | Source

Learning Style

Can you teach yourself? Are you comfortable asking questions when you don’t understand something? Are you self-directed? You need to be able to say “yes” to those three questions. Your learning style might not jive with an online class. Online classes are about self-pacing, self-direction, and self-control. You don’t get to show up and ask questions; you need to reach out to the teacher yourself. You don’t get to just skim the book and rely on other people to carry the conversation; generally, an online class has a “discussion” component, and if you haven’t done your reading, it will show. You may have to still take quizzes, write papers, and more – just by yourself. And there’s no chance to be reminded. You can always choose to not log in. Because there’s no scheduled class time, it’s easy to keep pushing the work off and procrastinate yourself into an F. You need to be able to control your time and schedule your work appropriately.

Online classes aren't magic!

The bottom line is this: don’t think taking an online class is magic. It’s still a lot of work – sometimes it’s even more work than a traditional class. Choose wisely, and don’t go into it with your eyes closed. Be aware of the class requirements and what you bring to it.

How to Take Online Education Classes

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