The advent of online education has significantly transformed the way people learn and earn degrees. Between fully-online institutions and traditional colleges and universities offering online programs, there are thousands of choices available for a prospective online learner. The student considering enrolling in an online program would do well to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this innovation.
Online programs remove one of the biggest barriers to obtaining an education by making courses accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Whereas the logistical issues of relocating to attend university have often derailed one’s plans, online courses provide access to programs that don’t require students to even leave their own home.
The most common reason students choose to enroll in an online course or program is for the flexibility. With 24/7 access to course content and many of the assignments and interactions provided asynchronously, online courses provide the flexibility needed by many learners, especially non-traditional students. A student can more realistically manage the demands of a full-time job or family care along with a course of study since much of the coursework can be done whenever it is most convenient.
While it is the technology that makes the notion of online learning even possible in the first place, it can also prove to be one of the biggest hurdles for students to overcome. A successful online student will be comfortable interacting online and not be intimidated by new technology. This is sometimes a challenge for students, specifically, older adults returning to school.
The nature of online teaching and learning is transforming education. Traditionally, a university education followed a “sage on the stage” method, wherein a knowledgeable instructor lectured and students passively absorbed the material. This model doesn’t always translate well in an online environment and educators have adapted their teaching practices to support more of a “guide on the side” philosophy, where much of the learning is driven by the engagement of students, working together. This is not inherently a negative thing, but it represents a big change for many, especially older, returning students, who are not as comfortable with this paradigm shift. Students who are not comfortable with a more active role in the online classroom will likely not benefit from the experience.