Online Learning vs. The Classroom:
Which Works Better For You?
Today, over 75 percent of traditional colleges and universities offer virtual courses, with more than 4 million students involved in “distance” or online coursework. But before you join the ranks of those online, there are many issues and considerations that should first be addressed to help you decide if online learning is the right choice.
• Check requirements for your major. Some classes have mandatory on-campus time outside of the classroom. For example, music majors may have required practice sessions, and science majors might be required to do experiments in a lab. Make sure to research course requirements before signing up.
• Determine your learning style. Particularly for classes in your major, your goal should be comprehension and retention, not just credit gathering for a degree. If you retain information better by participating in a classroom setting, take the class in person. If you enjoy professor and peer interaction, take your classes in person. But, if you prefer to think about and write out your responses instead of discussing in class, you might do well online.
• Group projects are possible. Even though most people consider the ability to work at their own pace, a perk of online classes, you may find that group work is required. If traveling to campus is inconvenient, make sure that regular face-to-face meetings with a group is not a component of the online program.
• Confirm the program’s accreditation. If you’re considering an online course through an institution where you are not a full-time student, get confirmation (in writing) that the credit will count toward your degree. Clarify what minimum grade you will need to transfer the credit.
• Make sure you are committed to the class. You may find it easier to budget time for class when it’s already built into your schedule. With online classes, you’re expected to put forth the same amount of time and effort that you would for an in-person class.
• Consider all your options. If you are considering an online class simply to gather college credit, consider other ways to earn credit, such as independent-study projects, CLEP exams and accelerated courses offered during semester breaks.
• Investigate the cost. Online courses at most colleges and universities cost just as much as if you were taking the class in person. Don’t count on computer-based classes to lessen your overall cost.
• Check the professor’s online availability. Ask the professor for his/her e-mail address, phone number and availability. Don’t ignore a professor’s office hours or willingness to interact with students just because you don’t see him/her every day. Clarify how quickly you can expect to hear back from a professor if you’ve e-mailed a question.
• Confirm the proper technology. Make sure your hardware, software and Internet connection can handle the course’s technical requirements.#
Laura Jeanne Hammond is editor in chief of The Next Step Magazine (nextSTEPmag.com), which publishes guides for students pursuing higher education.