Higher education is often considered a gateway to career success. In order to get a job that pays well and has good benefits, it is important to have a degree from an accredited college or university. Attending traditional university courses isn’t always an option for busy and working students, though. Fortunately, the traditional idea of college has been evolving in recent years, and modern students now have more options than ever before, thanks to the accessibility of online learning. If you are considering distance education but are not certain if online college is a good fit for you, consider these advantages.
Far and away, the most compelling reason to attend college online is the flexibility factor. In fact, it’s safe to say that distance education has transformed higher education, especially for students whose schedules cannot accommodate face-to-face classes.
Traditional campuses require students to be on-site, which can limit where students live and what other responsibilities they are able to juggle outside of class, including jobs and families. Online colleges, on the other hand, allow students to stay where they are, eliminating the need for costly housing and cumbersome commutes. Moreover, students at online universities can take classes whenever they fit into their schedules. This allows students to keep working while pursuing their educational goals. In fact, many professionals now choose online coursework to gain unique skill sets without ever missing a day of work. Moreover, stay-at-home moms and dads as well as single parents can now achieve their dreams of earning a college degree while still fulfilling the obligations of parenthood.
Asynchronous/Synchronous Online Degree Programs
Did you know that some online colleges and classes are more flexible than others? Most individuals considering online learning assume that all online schools and programs are comparable in terms of flexibility. This simply isn’t the case. Students who are considering attending college online should be aware that there are different types of online college programs available, and their online formats can vary. Those students with the most hectic schedules—think full-time jobs and parenting responsibilities—may benefit from asynchronous online college degree programs. These convenient, self-paced programs enable students to attend classes virtually whenever it’s easiest for them. With this particular course delivery mode, students can log into their distance learning platforms in the middle of the day or night, whatever works best for them. Learning is primarily self-paced with these programs, and deadlines for papers and other assignments may be flexible as well.
Synchronous online college degree programs are not as flexible as their asynchronous counterparts, however. These structured virtual offerings require students to keep a regular schedule of class attendance just as they would if they were attending classes in person. The only difference is that students are required to show up online rather than face-to-face. Once online, students enrolled in synchronous online courses will participate in live class discussions and view lectures and presentations in real-time. As you might imagine, it can be difficult for a student with a day job or a child at home to keep regular hours when it comes to their studies. That’s why synchronous programs are ideal for students with a little more wiggle room on their daily and weekly calendars.
Part-Time/Full-Time/Accelerated Online College
Another factor to keep in mind when considering the flexibility of online programs and courses is the availability of part-time versus full-time enrollment. Not all online colleges offer both tracks, so it may be best to decide how many courses you can handle at once before seeking out online schools and programs. Students with extra time to devote to their online coursework in the short term may benefit from accelerated offerings that allow students to take numerous classes at once and finish their degree requirements sooner rather than later.
Affordability and Financial Aid
The cost of higher education has skyrocketed in recent years. With tuition costs soaring, college can be unaffordable for some students. However, online colleges offer the same quality educational experiences at a significantly reduced cost. The reason that online colleges are cheaper is simple. Without a physical campus to maintain, these virtual schools have reduced overhead. This allows such colleges to offer the same coursework as traditional universities without the same expensive tuition rates. This way, students can get a useful degree without accruing nearly as much student debt prior to graduation. Even traditional colleges and universities that offer their programs both online and on-campus often offer deep discounts to their distance learning students. In most cases, students can attend these schools online for the same cost that in-state students pay, no matter where they live.
Tuition isn’t the only area where distance learning students can save big when it comes to online college. Without the commute associated with in-person attendance, students can save on car expenses like gas and maintenance, for example. Housing is also a huge expense that may be eliminated altogether for distance students. There’s no need to pay for an expensive dorm or apartment near campus when you can attend classes online from your current residence.
Distance learners who are still struggling to pay for school after receiving these discounts for online college have other options available to them, too. In fact, in most cases, the same financial aid resources are extended to online students and traditional students alike. Whether you decide to attend school virtually or in person, you may qualify for grants and loans from the federal government, for instance. Scholarships are also available to distance learners just as they are offered to students who plan to attend classes in person.
Quality of Online Instruction
What was once a drawback of distance learning has now moved into the column of advantages when it comes to online instruction. Since the inception of distance education, the quality of online instruction has evolved tremendously. Decades ago, a degree from an online college or university didn’t hold as much weight because it was assumed that students who attended classes online received an inferior education. After all, distance learning technology was still quite rudimentary in those days, requiring students to teach themselves to a large extent. Today, though, online degrees are held in high regard in both academia and in the workforce. This change in perception can be contributed in large part to technological advancements in online learning that enable students to learn in many of the same ways as traditional students. In fact, some students prefer online learning as it allows for individualized and self-paced instruction. For example, students enrolled in online classes can log into their learning platforms and access all of their course materials in one place. They can view recordings of lectures, pause to take notes, and rewind to review challenging material. These are learning tools and strategies that are unique to online learning.
Course and Program Selection
As more schools offer online options, it has become increasingly possible to pursue almost any degree entirely online. With this increased flexibility, students now have access to more virtual courses than ever before. Students can pursue more specialized degree paths that are offered only at a few schools without having to relocate. On top of that, students enrolled in an asynchronous online degree program are no longer limited by course times. In the past, students had to carefully arrange their schedules to make sure that no course times overlapped. This could prevent them from taking courses they wanted to take. With an asynchronous online college, such conflict no longer exists, empowering students to take only the courses that best suit their needs and interests.
Contemporary Learning Modes
With the prevalence of computer and tablet usage, most people already get their information from online sources. This makes the transition to an online classroom easier than ever. One could argue that online classes are merely an extension of how most people already learn. As an added benefit, online classrooms often provide more interactive classroom experiences thanks to email, messaging, chat, and message boards. Students have more access to their teachers, and student networking is almost a guaranteed part of the curriculum. In fact, some sources suggest that online courses actually enhance the student learning experience since there are fewer distractions from other students, making it easier to focus on lessons.
Focused, Individualized Learning
Another reason many students prefer online classes is that these courses offer more opportunities for individualization. For example, when taking an online course, students can pick their learning environment for the most part. If you feel more alert outdoors, there’s no reason you can’t set up an outdoor classroom on the patio. Getting up and taking breaks or even pacing as you participate in an online class discussion isn’t a problem when you’re learning virtually. The power to control your learning environment may also enable you to complete your coursework with fewer external impositions. Students enrolled in online courses aren’t forced to sit next to one another while completing coursework, so you won’t be distracted by a classmate tapping his pencil, for instance, or the thought of someone critiquing your outfit while you’re trying to solve a math problem. These are just a few examples of how distractions can be almost entirely eliminated when taking online classes.
Opportunities for Self-Growth
Another often overlooked advantage of attending online college is its ability to teach students about much more than just course content. Necessary life skills like self-discipline, perseverance, and resilience are often byproducts of studying college-level concepts via distance education. While some may argue that traditional students also have opportunities to acquire these life skills, an online environment may accelerate students’ self-growth due to the nature of the virtual classroom. Without professors looking over their shoulders or nearby classmates encouraging them, online students have only themselves to rely on (at least in their physical environment). While the lack of company can be a challenge, it can also be a valuable learning experience.
Online classrooms tend to be more diverse than on-campus courses, and this diversity stands to benefit students in various ways. Since online learning is highly accessible, and there are no geographic barriers preventing students from attending any online school they wish, these virtual learning environments are rife with students of all ages, lifestyles, and ethnicities from all over the world. Thus, students enrolled in these diverse online courses will have access to various perspectives on course content that they may not be exposed to in a more traditional classroom learning environment. This experience often cultivates more in-depth classroom discussions and ultimately, a firmer grasp of instructional materials and concepts. Moreover, diverse online classes prepare students for the types of virtual environments they may encounter in the global workforce after graduation from their online college degree programs.
Along with distance learning technology, student support services for online students has also evolved. Whereas online learners had to go it alone for the most part in the early days of distance education, today, colleges and universities offer many of the same services to online students as they do their on-campus students. In some cases, online students may even have access to additional support not offered to traditional students. Some examples of online support services include online tutoring, access to online libraries and databases, online counseling and mentoring, and virtual academic advising and career services, for example.
In addition to these online student support services, students often report receiving more support from their professors when taking classes online versus on-campus. While this claim may sound counterintuitive, it’s possible that professors find it easier to respond to an email or instant message from a student, for example, rather than staying after class or scheduling extra office hours to accommodate students’ requests for assistance. Increased student support is just one more advantage of attending online courses instead of traditional in-person classes.
Ultimately, online schools provide unique opportunities to learn and grow that may not have been available to students in decades past. That doesn’t mean that distance education is the ideal form of instruction for every student. After all, traditional college classes have their advantages as well, including increased engagement levels and more meaningful interactions with classmates and instructors, for example. If you’re considering attending online college classes, we recommend you first consider your personal learning style, your academic and career goals, and your personal lifestyle demands when deciding whether or not an online school is the best choice for you as an individual.