College Class Online
Need a flexible school schedule? Look into online colleges.
By Roxana Hadad
March 04, 2009
After you research your next car, book a flight and find a scholarship, why not do one more thing online — earn a degree. Lots of busy people are trying out this new alternative to the traditional college career.
All Kinds of Programs
The number of online education options has grown tremendously over the past several years. There are schools that focus exclusively on online education while more traditional institutions have added Internet programs to their mix.
Penn State’s World Campus enrolls over 6,500 registered students – 70 percent of whom do not live in Pennsylvania and 5 percent of whom do not even live in the United States. The World Campus programs offer the same courses and the same faculty as Penn State’s traditional courses.
Other online courses are run through educational institutions that are completely Web-based. These programs usually charge a one-time administration fee that can sometimes run as low as $10. The courses you register for are either included in the fee, or you pay a low course fee. There are even some programs that offer a free trial course.
When choosing an online education course, it’s important to know it can deliver the goods. Gary Miller, the Executive Director of Penn State’s World Campus, suggests that you ask these questions when evaluating a program:
- Is it an accredited institution? A college that is accredited has had its educational program reviewed and credentialed by an independent association. Accreditation of an online program is important when you’re looking for a job or applying to a school.
- Does it have a full-time faculty? Find out about the teachers and their backgrounds.
- What are students doing after graduation? Look for a college that has advanced students into good careers.
- Are the courses interactive? The classes should offer an interactive learning environment – not just course materials to be downloaded and tests to be taken online.
- How structured is the program? You want a program that is structured enough to motivate you, but not so structured that it limits your lifestyle.
- How timely is teacher feedback? Ask about the school’s policy governing when teachers must answer your questions and give feedback on your assignments.
Check Out the Pros and Cons
Online learning may be right for you – but before you log on, consider the advantages and disadvantages to make sure it’s what you want.
The greatest benefit of online education is its accessibility. You can go to class at any time of day from any computer in the world. “This is what makes it perfect for the busy, working individual,” says Brian Mueller, chief executive officer at the University of Phoenix.
And some may find that the online format makes it easier to participate in class discussions. “It’s a democratic environment – your ideas will be shared without anyone knowing what you look or sound like,” Mueller says. You also don’t have to wait for class time to ask your professor a question or propose an idea to your classmates. You can thoroughly develop your ideas and questions before you share them.
On the downside, online courses are always dependent on technology. You can’t go to class if the server is down or your computer is on the blink.
Also, the anonymity of online participation has its own drawbacks. “Online classes don’t develop your oral communication skills,” Mueller says. You don’t get the experience of standing up in front of your class to present your ideas, a skill that comes in handy when going out into the corporate world. You may also miss face-to-face in-class discussions and direct contact with your professor.
Online education opens doors for busy people who need a course schedule with flexibility. Log on and see what it’s all about.