A college degree is almost a requirement to get any job these days. Employers want to see an Associate's degree at minimum, but a Bachelors degree is preferred. At the same time college costs continue to skyrocket making getting a great education an expensive proposition for many.
One of the ways that you can improve your education is to go online. Many schools now offer online courses that can help you work toward your degree. My husband teaches online courses for Utah State University, allowing students a degree of flexibility in their educational pursuits. Additionally, schools like Harvard and the University of North Carolina also offer online courses.
While you want to make sure that you are taking a trustworthy online course, an even more important issue might be that you need to focus on whether or not you are well-suited to online learning.
Getting an Online Degree: Is It Worth It?
Here are some things to consider before you jump straight into an online degree program.
Just as Much Work — Or More Work — Than a Traditional Course
Eric Chen is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut. “Perhaps the biggest misconception about online programs is that an online course is less work than a traditional course,” he says. “Online course offerings are often more work.”
Even though many online courses allow a student to work at his or her own pace, the reality is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done. And a student has to be motivated to complete the assignments and engage in self-directed study. “It is still up to the student to participate online and document the student's learning activities,” Chen points out. “In fact, online course offerings actually require that the student be more disciplined in order to successfully complete such a course.”
While there are degree mills out there, offering unaccredited courses and degrees that don't take as much work, a legit course will likely come with its own challenges and require that you put in as much — or more — time as you would if you were taking the class on a traditional college campus.
Who is Suited for an Online Course?
If you want to take an online course, whether you are trying to finish up a degree, or whether you are trying to achieve a specific certification in order to qualify for a raise or promotion at work, it's a good idea to make sure that you are well-suited for an online education.
“The best online learner is one who takes responsibility for his or her learning,” Chen says. He says that the students who often do well with online courses have the following traits:
- Technological familiarity
“The best online learners I've seen at the college level happen to be adult learners,” Chen says. “Those who have embraced technology, those in management positions who have incentive to finish degrees quickly in order to get promoted up the chain, and those whose travel schedules do not allow for regular meetings at a predetermined time every week.”
He says that many younger students struggle with online courses. They may have more technology savvy, but they don't often have the maturity to understand what it takes to be successful. “Younger students often get tripped up by the illusions that the flexibility [online] learning offers,” Chen says.
After watching my very tech-savvy younger brother attempt online courses for the sake of flexibility, I can see his point. The idea that there is “plenty of time” to catch up, and the idea that the online class can be finished later often means many students never end up finishing, since many online courses still require that you complete the work (and take the exam) within a predetermined period of time.
“Students should carve out dedicated time to devote to their learning, whether it be in an online or traditional classroom,” Chen suggests. With a traditional classroom, though, carving out this learning time is often easier, since it's part of the daily routine. To succeed at online coursework, you need to carve out regular time to work on your assignments, and add the online learning into your routine.
In the end, only you can decide whether online learning is right for you. Before you take the plunge, carefully consider your situation, and whether or not you really are cut out to take online classes. If you aren't, online courses are little more than a waste of money.