Since the start of the millennium, computers and the Internet have greatly expanded the options for education seekers everywhere. This sample essay discusses how with the ability to simply log in to a class from the remote comforts of a PC or laptop, it’s no longer necessary to live nearby a campus or university.
When a course is conducted online, lectures are normally given via streaming audio and video, which allows students to schedule their own “class time” at any hour, day or night. For people who lead busy lives and juggle school between work and social commitments, online—aka distance learning—courses are often the perfect fit. For the disabled and those who lack sufficient means of transportation, the option to learn online makes it far easier to earn credits toward postsecondary degrees.
Since the late noughties, the distance learning format has rapidly gained support among college administrators throughout the U.S. In a 2013 study of more than 2,800 colleges by the Babson Survey Research Group, it was found that 7.1 million students had taken one or more online courses over the past year. The figure marked a 6.1% increase—accounting for roughly 400,000 students—over 2012 online enrollment rates (“2013 – Grade Change”).
Five things to consider about online courses
For people who are new to the concept of distance learning, one question immediately springs to mind: do online courses offer a viable alternative to onsite classes? The answer could all depend on a variety of factors, including:
- Are classes for a particular major being offered online?
- Is the online course being offered by a reputable institution?
- Does the discipline in question translate well to a distance learning environment?
- Does an applicant have the self-discipline to complete and upload coursework in a timely manner?
- Does one have sufficient computer skills to participate and keep the pace in an online learning environment?
The first three questions can be answered pretty quickly by examining a school’s ratings and degree programs.
The points addressed by the last two questions, however, should be kept in mind throughout one’s period of adjustment to distance learning. After all, it might seem easy to take a course on a PC or laptop, but it still requires focus, hard work, and a commitment of time and energy. Furthermore, some online courses present technical challenges that are rarely faced in a classroom setting, and thus would require advanced computer savvy just to stay the pace (“Distance Learning”).
On-site attendance: Inconvenient or worth the commute?
For centuries, people have moved far away from home to attend college. Today, as more degree programs are being offered online, the options are increasing for people who can’t move to attend school due to various factors, such as personal commitments or finances. Still, an on-campus learning experience could be more preferable for many different topics; particularly when it comes to hands-on, technical skill-building majors.
Therefore, there are two things to consider before ruling out the on-site learning experience:
- If the right school exists in-state, is the campus situated within a reasonable distance from home?
- If not, is the campus located in an area that would be personally suitable for relocation?
If the answer to both questions is “no,” yet the school in question offers the best degree programs for both online and on-site students, distance learning could be the best option.
Before settling on an online education, one should also read up on whether a given program includes compulsories such as on-site exams, internships, or supervised training hours. After all, just because a program is conducted online, there could still be the occasional test or session where physical, on-site attendance is required.
A further possible advantage to an on-site degree program is lower tuition. In some cases, online-learning institutes charge a flat tuition rate for students everywhere, whereas local two and four-year colleges could offer lower rates for in-state students.
The motivation factor
The ability to choose between online and on-site courses allows students to better gauge their own individual learning styles. As such, a student can now decide whether he or she finds it easier to digest information on a computer at home, or in the live setting of a classroom. Motivation is a key factor in this regard; some people feel a greater sense of motivation and find it easier to concentrate in the comfort of their living rooms, while others harness those same energies in public surroundings, where leisurely distractions and lax time restrictions aren’t part of the equation.
In order to muster the motivation needed for an online learning environment, a student should have the following traits:
- The self-discipline to plan out a full-day’s chores and fulfill everything on the checklist, hour by hour; day after day.
- The ability to absorb volumes of written information without the reinforcement of an in-class lecture.
Basically, a student must be an organized, self-disciplined individual who can regularly commit time to the weekly workload of a distance learning program.
On the other hand, a student might not be suited for online courses if he or she inherently views learning as a collective process that can only occur in a classroom. For a lot of students, the basic amenities of on-site classes are vital; many would argue that it’s often hard to gain an understanding of certain course materials without a teacher present; or to feel inspired about a class and its curriculum without the company of classmates.
Can the Course be Taught Online?
When it comes to learning formats, the availability of one or the other could vary according to the program. Simply put, not all programs are suited to the distance learning format. Contrastingly, the online environment can actually enhance the experience of certain other fields of study.
Examples of programs that don’t suit the online format include chemistry, engineering, nursing, and anything else that requires hands-on involvement. With chemistry, for instance, a typical course will include lab time where students mix chemicals in beakers; such activities cannot be approximated over the Internet. Likewise, nursing courses usually consist of time at clinics where students practice patient care on dummies and live volunteers. Courses in things like welding, construction, and mechanics are similarly ill-suited to the distance learning format; it simply isn’t possible for students to gain such skills without tactical participation in a workshop setting.
Programs that are more applicable to the online environment include disciplines that consist primarily of reading comprehension and problem-solving skills, such as literature, math, history, science, information technology, and business. For each of the first three examples, the straightforward curriculum—reading, assignments/essays, quizzes—can easily be conducted over the Internet. For IT majors, the program can actually be enhanced through online coursework, since it further incorporates the very medium that IT graduates use most in the industry (Miller).
Ultimately, the suitability of distance learning could all depend on a student’s chosen major.
Do companies hire applicants with online degrees?
One question that sometimes escapes the minds of prospective distance-learning students is whether or not an online degree will be accepted in a given industry. Therefore, it’s wise to do some research on a particular industry’s attitude toward online-degree holders before preparing for that industry through distance learning courses.
As of now, perceptions of online-degree holders are mixed among employers. During its early days, the degree-type met with more resistance (Columbaro and Monaghan); but as pointed out in a 2007 Chronicle of Higher Education piece, most of the negative attitudes came from employers with little knowledgeable of distance learning, who merely judged the concept at face value (Carnevale).
Since 2010, however, attitudes have grown increasingly positive as more companies have hired online-degree holders, whom tests show perform just as well as colleagues who were educated through traditional means. That year, an analysis of 45 different studies on the topic by the U.S. Department of Education found that degrees earned through online classes generate the same levels of skill and competency as degrees earned through on-site classes (Means et al.) Furthermore, students who earned degrees through a combination of campus and distance learning courses were found to be even more competent and skillful than students who’d only taken one or the other.
Nonetheless, skepticism of online learners lingers on in certain sectors. According to a 2013 Public Agenda survey, 56% of employers would prefer that job applicants earn degrees through on-site classes (“Not Yet Sold”). Then again, 45% of those surveyed also perceived online learners as being more disciplined than their in-class counterparts. The takeaway from all of this is that employers are coming around to the concept, albeit slowly.
At some point down the line, degrees earned via distance learning will cease to be stigmatized as increasing numbers of young workers enter the job market having taken the bulk of their college courses online. In the mean time, a possible way to ease doubts among skeptical employers is to back up an online degree with a competency test from an accredited university.
“2013 – Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States.” OnlineLearningConsortium.org. Online Learning Consortium. n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
“Distance Learning vs. Onsite Education.” The School Directory. QuinStreet, Inc. n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
Miller, Georgie. “On-Campus vs. Online Degrees: Which One is Better?” World Wide Learn. QuinStreet, Inc. 24 July 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
Columbaro, Norina L., and Catherine H. Monaghan, Ph.D. “Employer Perceptions of Online Degrees: A Literature Review.” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. University of West Georgia. 2009. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
Carnevale, Daniel. “Employers often distrust online degrees.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education Inc. 5 Jan. 2007. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
Means, Barbara; Yukie Toyama; Robert Murphy; Marianne Bakia; and Karla Jones. “Evidence- Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies.” U.S. Department of Education. 2010. PDF file.
“Not Yet Sold: What Employers and Community College Students Think About Online Education.” Public Agenda. 2013. PDF file.