Online education is increasingly being seen as an attractive option to fulfil personal and professional learning goals. This post discusses 12 considerations when thinking of pursuing education online.
In today’s business environment, there is a growing emphasis on continued professional development, to ensure that we, as employees and professionals, remain relevant and continue to possess marketable skills. In a wider context, especially since we are all living longer, greater considerations is also being given to lifelong learning, as we all strive, to varying degrees, for self-actualisation.
Due to our hectic lives, attending classes at a university, college or other traditional avenues for tuition, can be a challenge, especially in terms of time and money. Hence increasingly, persons are looking to online programmes to achieve personal and professional learning goals. Although online study is being increasingly embraced, outlined below are 12 factors to consider when deciding to pursue them.
Benefits of online education
Increasingly, online education is compared directly with more traditional forms of study, which suggests that the former is no longer being viewed as a less attractive option to face-to-face tuition. Below are four key advantages of online education:
1. Flexibility. Depending on how a programme is structured, it may be entirely possible to have complete freedom regarding when and where the tuition is delivered to you. For example, a course may be designed using a self-study model, where the student reviews the course materials at his/her own pace, and either intermittently or at the end he/she is tested. At the other extreme, a course could be designed where students are connected remotely to a physical classroom, and hence are able to participate in the delivery and discussions of the course material.
Between the self-study and remote participation models, there are a board range of options through which online education can be delivered. Hence persons are in a greater position to select opportunities that are most convenient to them.
2. Convenience. In comparison to traditional avenues for learning for which you might need to be physically present, for online learning options, commuting to a campus is not necessary. Additionally, you can usually access online courses and programmes regardless of your location, unless specific constraints have been established.
3. Affordability. The cost of face-to-face classes can be expensive. Generally, online educational programmes are more affordable. However, they tend to be increasingly attractive since transportation, accommodations and general living expenses that might be incurred when attending traditional courses, are normally not incurred when studying online.
4. Wider selection of subjects. Another distinct benefit of the online learning space is the fact that there are numerous courses available – on a broad range of topics, of varying duration, comprising different content, and at different price points. Hence, due to the choice available, you can try to find the best programme to suit your needs.
Challenges of online learning
Although there are thousands of institutions worldwide offering courses over the Internet, and enrolment is increasing year on year, online learning does have some limitations:
5. Creditability and quality issues. Depending on the country, there can be stringent rules or clear procedures regarding the delivery of face-to-face learning, such as, courses must be accredited by a specified body, or that the institution itself ought to be accredited. For online programmes, quality control requirements are either considerable relaxed, or non-existent. Hence, as a prospective student, you may have no guarantee of the quality of the tuition delivered, and there might be limited avenues for redress, should you not be happy with the programme.
6. Limited interaction. Depending on the programme, there can be limited interaction between students and teachers in the online education space, as opposed to face-to-face classes. Hence the social aspects of being in a physical classroom, especially the camaraderie among peers, might not be as developed when studying online remotely.
7. Technology challenges. When deciding to study online, it becomes important that you have access to consistent Internet connectivity. In some instances, the programme also sets out certain technical specifications, such as minimum download speeds and needed software applications, to facilitate smoother delivery. Hence, the onus would be on the student to ensure that the facilities to which he/she has access, will not unduly hinder the learning process, and may require expenses to be incurred to upgrade existing systems.
8. Scheduling conflicts. This challenge can be evident when specific times must be scheduled for certain activities, such as a common time across the entire virtual classroom for an online chat or tutorial. Depending on where students are based, which may be worldwide, the times selected might not be the most convenient to you, and you might lose out on vital sessions during the programme.
9. Suitability. Depending on the subject area, there are some topics that might not be immediately suitable for tuition over the Internet. These might include subjects that require hands-on training or practical work, or where students might better learn by demonstration. Hence although an organisation might offer “Practical Chemistry” online (for example), the onus is still on you to carefully consider whether that course, based on the outline furnished, can be effectively administered online, against the skills you expect to develop at the end of the course.
Some things to prepare for online studying
Depending on your needs and circumstances, online education might still be the best option. However, below are four considerations to better prepare for such an activity.
10. Learning style. It is important to consider what your learning style might be, and what might be your “must haves” in order to be comfortable and successful in an online programme of study. In recognising your learning style, you can then attempt to select online programmes that complement that style, or identify additional resources, or support systems, that you might need to establish to accompany the programme you have selected.
11. Due diligence. Recognising that online training options can vary considerably, not only in terms of content, but also the quality and credibility of tuition, it is vital that you do your research. That exercise should include carefully examining the pros and cons of any programme you have identified against your checklist of requirements, especially your “must haves”. Invariably, no programme will be perfect, but this step should provide you with the opportunity to make an informed decision.
12. Time demands. Finally, although an online programme might allow flexible study time, it must be highlighted that it will still make demands on your time. Depending on the intensity of the course, you may need to devote between 6—15 hours per week to stay on track. Initially, that might not sound like a huge time commitment, but recognising that most of us already have quite hectic lives, we ought to seriously consider whether we truly have the time, and are mentally ready for the sacrifices that might be necessary.
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