Distance education is perhaps one of the most defining technological advancements of our time. And it’s currently having its moment in the sun. E-learning has been in the works for decades. Yet, the Covid-19 pandemic shone a light on online education technology and proved what it’s truly capable of. In the past few years, students and teachers alike have become aware of just what can be accomplished through online learning and teaching. This includes academic and career advancement without geographical boundaries.
If you’re a current or prospective college student, now is the time to get in on the many benefits of online classes. You can reap these benefits as part of a degree plan or as standalone virtual courses. In this article, you’ll learn about the advantages of online education in general. You’ll also access information about the advantages of online learning that pertain to students seeking college credit to enhance their academic and professional lives. What are you waiting for?
Benefits of Online Courses (In General)
Later, we will delve into the many benefits of online learning for students seeking college credit. But, let’s first address the more general advantages of an online learning experience compared to on-campus programs. After all, distance education is for everyone. Whether you’re actively seeking a degree or not, there are a lot of rewards to be had by taking online classes. This includes advantages to enhance both your personal and professional life.
The Flexibility of the Online Learning Experience
Flexibility tops our list of online education advantages. It’s one of the most widely recognized benefits of online learning. It’s so widely known, in fact, that we risk stating the obvious even to include it here. Still, there’s no denying that one of the critical advantages of online learning is the flexibility factor. Without a commute or in-person learning requirements, online students can focus on learning online. This frees up precious time to work part-time (or even full-time) at a current job, raise children, or take care of any other responsibilities they may have. This makes online learning highly convenient for busy adults.
Other students can also enjoy the flexibility of online classes. This includes more traditional students like recent high school graduates. The extra time afforded to these students through online learning can be spent in various ways. Examples include:
- studying challenging subjects
- articipating in student organizations
- spending quality time with family
The truth is there’s no type of student who doesn’t benefit from a little more free time in their day. This is true whether they’re spending time completing assignments, working on their technical skills, or pursuing an online degree.
When considering flexibility as one of the benefits of online classes, it’s essential to recognize that this flexibility can vary. It depends on the type of online course you’re taking or the program you’re enrolled in. That’s become some types of online education, and online programs are more flexible than others. For instance, synchronous and hybrid courses may be the least flexible types of online learning. Synchronous classes mandate that online students attend a virtual class in much the same way as they would attend live lectures in person. That means they must “arrive” at a particular time to watch lectures and log off at a specific time. These types of classes are also more likely to be associated with firm deadlines. These are like those you might see in a traditional classroom environment. Hybrid courses are even less flexible. This is because they require some face-to-face meetings (usually on campus) and online coursework. If your schedule or preferences require the most amount of flexibility, you’ll want to look for an asynchronous online class or program. Most online programs with an asynchronous format allow students to work at their own pace. They do so by offering them 24/7 access to course materials and assignments. In this type of learning environment, lectures are often pre-recorded instead of live-streamed as they would in a synchronous online course.
Affordability And Saving Money
The opportunity to save a little cash is always worth mentioning. And another of the most compelling advantages of online courses is their affordability. Distance education courses can range in price. Still, they’re almost always more cost-effective than their traditional, in-person counterparts. There are even some free online classes you can take. These are usually available for audit only. Universities usually charge distance learners a lower in-state tuition rate. This policy could save thousands of dollars per semester simply by opting to learn online instead of on campus. Plus, financial aid may be available.
No matter what you end up paying in tuition as an online student, there are also other savings to be had by attending online classes. Transportation and housing costs are unnecessary for online learners. These students can take online classes from home and skip the commute. Saving money at a coffee shop or restaurant is also possible when studying from home. Digital course materials may also be available at a low or no cost. There’s typically no need to purchase printed materials.
Engagement and Learning Style
One of the surprising benefits of online learning is the heightened levels of engagement it provides. This is especially true for specific online learners who want to learn new skills. Decades ago, when distance learning was catching on, this is the opposite result that many critics feared. It was once thought that engagement would taper off in an online learning environment. But that’s not at all what has happened. Instead, technology has provided interactive online learning environments. As a result, students often feel liberated by the lack of physical classroom walls. These online learners, particularly those who are hesitant to speak up in traditional class settings, thrive in virtual class environments. The pressure is less suffocating here, and their surroundings are more familiar. For these students, communication skills often improve.
Beyond classroom discussion, virtual learning environments also provide convenient communication tools. These also add to the engagement factor for online learners with specific learning styles. E-mail, online chat, and classroom forums provide instant and easy access to professors and fellow students. On campus, students must schedule meetings with professors during office hours or make time for study groups on a physical campus. It’s easy to see how a high engagement level and increased collaboration are more easily maintained with online classes versus a traditional classroom setting. That’s not to mention live lectures that can be accessed remotely.
Advantages of Online Classes for College Credit
The benefits of online learning are available to any student with an internet connection. Still, online learning has particular benefits for students who wish to earn college credits or even an entire degree. These benefits are readily available to all types of students. That is, they’re not reserved exclusively for distance learners. It’s possible to transition from online learning to traditional classes and back again at your own convenience if you so desire. Remember, the principal benefit of an online program is its flexibility. And this applies to online courses for college credit as well! Want to learn more? Read on.
Earn Your Online Degree at Your Own Pace
It’s common knowledge that one of the primary benefits of online classes is their incredible flexibility. Combine this with the ability to earn real college credit through online learning, and the advantages are only multiplied. Many students are hard-wired to think that earning a bachelor’s degree takes at least four years. But with an online bachelor’s degree plan and an internet connection, this doesn’t have to be the case. With self-paced online degree programs, students who work on their own schedule can finish degree requirements in less time. The same holds true for other types of online college credentials, such as associate’s, master’s, and even doctoral programs.
Of course, not all online students wish to complete their degree requirements acceleratedly. In fact, others may need more time to complete coursework and earn their credentials. Many online programs accommodate these circumstances as well. They do so by allowing students to work on their own schedules more flexibly. For example, students needing a full-time job may opt to study part-time toward their degree. The combination of a lighter course load plus the ability to complete coursework from home enables many non-traditional students to further their education. In many cases, they may not have had the opportunity to do so otherwise. This is the incredible power and reach of learning in an online environment!
Save Money on Tuition
For financially savvy students, tuition savings is among the leading benefits of online education. These programs tend to be cheaper compared to on-campus programs. Many online colleges extend the same tuition discounts to their distance learners that they give to their in-state students. The cost benefits don’t end with these degree-granting institutions, though. Online learning platforms like Coursera and edX, for example, offer opportunities for distance learners to take college courses for credit without the exorbitant costs of tuition. Some free college courses for credit do exist. There’s usually a fee associated with these types of online offerings, but the expense is nowhere near what you’d pay at a university.
A word of caution about earning college credits on third-party online learning platforms, though. These are great resources to learn a new skill and are entirely legitimate. Still, you’ll need to do a bit of planning ahead of time to take advantage of these cheaper alternatives to earning college credit. Specifically, you need to have a plan in place for how the credits you earn will transfer to an accredited college or university. This plan should be in place before it comes time to get your degree. That’s because each school has its own policies for which credits they will and will not accept. If you don’t plan ahead, you may actually end up losing money (not to mention time). And financial aid is always a possibility.
Get a Feel for College Before You Commit
For high school students or recent graduates, there are other advantages of online courses to be had. For example, those students who are still on the fence about attending college can dip their toes in the waters of higher education. They can earn new knowledge and new skills without making a full commitment to a university. Online college courses can help these apprehensive students get a feel for what it would be like to be a full-time college student. They can do so without all the risks that come along with official enrollment. There are even some online courses available that are designed to introduce students to the college experience. For example, Coursera hosts an online course from the University of Washington entitled University 101: Understanding College and College Life. Similarly, edX boasts a whole suite of online courses designed to prepare students for college academics. Many of these distance learning options may result in college credit that can eventually be transferred to a degree program.
Get a Head Start on College
One of the advantages of online learning for students who are college bound is the ability to earn college credits before enrollment. Students with good time management skills can begin earning credit online before they graduate from high school. For example, edX offers free online Advanced Placement (AP) courses. These include classes in:
- physical science
These online courses prepare high school students to take AP tests administered by The College Board. Passing scores on these tests qualify students to earn real college credit from colleges and universities across the United States. Online AP classes provide extraordinary benefits for those students who attend schools that lack the resources to provide certain subject-area AP courses on campus.
Choosing the Right Online Courses and Schools for College Credit
It’s been established that there are a lot of different online learning opportunities available right now. So the question becomes, “How does one go about choosing the right one?”
Look for Accreditation
To reap the benefits of online courses for college credit, you’ll need to keep accreditation top of mind. This is especially true if your plan is to eventually transfer these credits to a degree plan. But if you’re auditing an online course or just taking classes for fun, accreditation is not such a big issue. Be sure that the institution you’re taking classes from is accredited by an accrediting agency that’s approved by the U.S. Department of Education. You can also quickly confirm a school’s current accreditation status by using the College Navigator tool. This tool is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Choose a High-Interest Subject to Start
While there are myriad benefits of online classes, there are just as many challenges. Contrary to popular belief, learning online isn’t necessarily taking the easy path. At most colleges, these classes cover the same content and are often just as rigorous academically as any in-person course. And you won’t have the same type of structure that a physical classroom provides. Many students find the flexible schedule to be an obstacle rather than an advantage, at least at first. Without the restraints of specific class meeting times, you may come up short on self-discipline or time management skills. This could result in poor performance. To avoid this potential pitfall of the online learning experience, it’s wise to pick an online course that you’re highly interested in. Hone some technical skills for career advancement, for example, or choose a subject that’s just for fun.
Keep the End Goal in Mind
If a college degree is one of your target advantages of online learning, then you’ll want to keep this in focus as you begin your distance education journey. With thousands of classes and even entire online programs available for free or cheap, it’s easy to get distracted! As you’re selecting courses, try to choose titles that will eventually transfer to a degree plan. If you know the school you want to one day attend and/or the major you want to pursue, that’s even better. With this information, you can carefully plan a course of action that will help you achieve your career goals. At the very least, you can get some of your general education requirements out of the way. This can be accomplished by taking online courses before your official college enrollment. Speaking to an admissions counselor at your target school is not a bad idea. You’ll want to get as much information as you can about the institution’s credit transfer policies. With a little research, you’ll be on your way to taking full advantage of the many benefits of online learning for students like you.
The advantages of online learning are vast and ever-increasing. If you look at how distance education has evolved in just a few short decades, one can only imagine how it will transform learning in the future. To reap all the benefits of online learning, you’ll want to stay current with advancements and opportunities in the field to work remotely. For now, consider the many benefits of online education for self-motivated students. And think about how these apply to your current academic, career advancement (think salary increase!), and life goals.
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- Coursera: University 101: Understanding College and College Life
- EdX: AP Classes
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- National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): College Navigator
- U.S. Department of Education: Institutional Accrediting Agencies