Universities everywhere are jumping on the distance learning bandwagon. Each year more and more courses are becoming available online. Even some high schools are beginning to offer online classes. On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful idea, but before pursuing an online degree, one must consider the limitations of the online format.
1. Major Self-Discipline Required
One of the biggest draws of web-based education is flexibility. If students have work commitments, family responsibilities, or disabilities that make conventional learning environments difficult, they’re still able to complete their work on the computer without ever leaving home. However, depending on the personality of the student this might be a problem. If students aren’t disciplined enough to make themselves sit down each day to do classwork, online learning might not pan out. In addition, all the interruptions of the home environment ─ phones ringing, dogs barking, children crying ─ might keep students from learning very effectively.
2. Hidden Costs
Reduced cost is another huge benefit of web-based learning. Students don’t have to live on campus, drive to class, or find childcare for class time. It would seem web-based learning would absolutely be cheaper than campus-based classes. However, many costs are hidden. A high-speed internet connection is a must for online students, as is a home computer. Additionally, it may be appropriate to consider regular rent, food, and other cost-of-living expenses comparable to room and board at a conventional school.
3. Not a Fit for Every Style and Kind of Learning
Many feel online learning is fabulous for certain styles of learning. If students need to work at a slower pace, reviewing lessons until they’re fully understood, web-based learning may be ideal. By the same token, students who learn quickly aren’t held back by the pace of classmates but are able to advance at their own speeds. However, those who need daily interaction with a professor and learn by asking lots of questions may find at least certain forms of online learning a challenge. Students must be able to accurately judge their own styles of learning. One must remember also that some classes aren’t really suited for totally remote online learning. Labs, for instance, are necessarily hands-on and in most cases just won’t work in an online format.
4. Minimal Social Interaction
From a social standpoint, introverts will likely enjoy being able to do their coursework without the distractions of other students. However, social butterflies may feel lonely, missing the personal interactions with peers that make up so much of the conventional college experience. Although many web-based education programs actually do feature face-to-face interaction through video conferencing, this probably isn’t any substitute for actual in-person interaction, even if it does allow for live class discussion online.
In the end . . .
All in all, it seems that for the most part the quality of web-based learning depends on students themselves. One student’s benefit is another student’s drawback. Students and families must individually judge if their learning styles and needs are compatible with an online format. The ability to practice the discipline and time management necessary to make web-based education a success is perfect for some, just not for all.