Online Classes: Are They Right for You?

Discover online learning, and how to decide if it's right for you.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

March 10, 2021

Online Classes: Are They Right for You?
Need a flexible education schedule? Look into online learning.
After you research your next car, book a flight and find a scholarship, why not do one more thing online -- earn a degree. Online degrees provide students with accessibility and flexibility. Through online programs, students have access to schools or degrees that may have otherwise been out of reach. They can also attend class on their own time – or in tandem with a full- or part-time job. Degrees aren’t the only higher education opportunities that can be earned online. Now, schools, institutions, and organizations provide everything from certifications to one-time courses. Online learning proves that the world really is your oyster; you only have to have a reliable Internet connection.

Types of Online 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. For instance, Penn State's World Campus enrolls over 6,500 registered students – 70% of whom do not live in Pennsylvania and 5% 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.
Younger kids and their parents can find elearning options to help supplement what they’re learning in the classroom. High school and college students can actually take advantage of online classrooms in order to receive college credits. Finally, working professionals can add to their skill set with certifications or change their career with an online degree. The possibilities are endless for online learning.

How to Evaluate Online Programs

When choosing an online education course, it's important to know it can deliver the goods. Leaders at Penn State's World Campus suggest that you ask these questions when evaluating a program:
  1. 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.
  2. Does it have a full-time faculty? Find out about the teachers and their backgrounds.
  3. What are students doing after graduation? Look for a college that has advanced students into good careers.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. How timely is teacher feedback? Ask about the school's policy governing when teachers must answer your questions and give feedback on your assignments.
If you’re having trouble narrowing down programs, you can also check out our Side-by-Side Comparison resource for online learning. We break down popular platforms by the number of courses offered, course format, and supplements. Course format is especially important to consider when evaluating programs. You can find anything from self-paced programming to interactive courses that you attend live with the professor and other classmates. It’s also important to note that many online learning platforms come with a community. Through these platforms, you can engage with community forums and professional support networks.

Pros and Cons of Online Learning

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. On the downside, online courses are always dependent on technology. You must have a properly working computer or laptop and a reliable Internet connection, and you can't go to class if the server is down or your computer is on the blink. You could also feel more isolated in your education experience than if you attended in-person courses. There is also flexibility, in a variety of ways. Online students have the flexibility to attend class or find a program based on a timing that suits them. They also have the flexibility to decide what they want to get out of their online learning: Do they want a degree? A certification? Or a new skill set? Though this option does provide greater flexibility, the structure – or lack thereof – can be a problem for some students. This requires a lot of motivation and responsibility for the student. It’s much easier to skip an online class than it is an in-person course, and in both cases, that’s a big waste of money. Online education opens doors for busy people who need a course schedule with flexibility. Log on and see what it's all about.

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