Is Online Distance Learning the Right Choice for You?
Distance learning has some serious advantages. Thanks to online courses, students can work school into their own schedules. This makes higher education far more accessible to non-traditional students of all kinds, including students who have children. Distance learning also allows students to take classes from a variety of geographical locations. It no longer matters if you live in a remote area with no access to a university, or if you live thousands of miles away from the nearest program that interests you.
However, it’s important not to romanticize distance learning as the right solution for everyone. Some students do very well with online classes. But many students find that their learning styles and study habits really don’t mesh well with the expectations of online courses. Before taking an online class, here are some questions to ask yourself.
First, do you have the self-discipline to take an online course? All higher education requires self-discipline, but because online courses are so self-structured, you have to be even more disciplined to be successful. The “do it whenever” structure of an online class is fabulous because it allows you to work around your schedule, but some people don’t work well with so little structure.
Second, can you learn well without the “face time” aspect of the traditional classroom? Some students find they do just fine without direct interaction with the teacher or other students. Online classes often come with student discussion forums and opportunities to interact virtually with the instructor, and some students find that this is plenty of interaction. In fact, shyer students may prefer this. However, some people find it difficult to learn without face-to-face interactions between instructor and student. Others simply find this system too lonely and isolating.
Finally, do you have the time to take an online course? Don’t be deceived by the fact that the course allows for a flexible schedule. You may be able to work in your pajamas, but you still have to work. In many cases, online courses are actually more work than traditional classes because there’s so much independent work involved. In traditional classes, you can sometimes get by without doing the homework. In an online class, it’s all homework, so you have no choice but to do it.
If you’re thinking about taking an online class, be honest with yourself—or give a class a try, followed by an honest assessment of your performance and experience. There’s nothing wrong with being the wrong kind of student for distance learning. It’s a great innovation, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everybody.