10 Benefits of Attending an Online College
In the three decades since the Internet transformed distance learning for colleges, much has changed. Platforms have proliferated and learning tools have changed dramatically. Today’s college students can learn via rich video, instant voice and text communication and even through interactive programs that respond to a student’s knowledge, or gaps in knowledge. However, some things have not changed. For students who are serious about getting an education and advancing in their careers, online school programs offer distinct advantages over brick-and-mortar college classes.
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Of all the benefits of attending college online, flexibility is perhaps the most important to the majority of students, particularly those who are adult learners with full work schedules and family commitments. According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2018 Digest of Education Statistics nearly 34 percent of college students took one or more courses online in 2017, up from less than 16 percent in the 2003-2004 school year. There are many reasons for the growth. Online college allows a student to:
- Find the degree program that best fits your needs and professional goals, whether it’s in your city, in another part of the country or in another part of the world.
- Do class work when it’s convenient for you. Tackle assignments in the early morning before the children wake up, or on a Friday night when others may be socializing.
- Work at your own pace, within the parameters set by your program. As long as students meet their deadlines and participate as required, they can dive deeper into certain material, watch a lecture a second time or skim through information they already know. Only have time for half the lecture? Listen to the rest later.
- Study where it’s convenient. Noisy children playing games with your partner? Go to the coffee shop to write that paper. Aging parent recovering from surgery at home? You can be there. As long as you have an Internet connection, you’re in business.
Online school programs are less stressful in many ways. Here are a few:
- You don’t have to leave work to make it to class at a certain time one or more days a week.
- Life’s emergencies — caregiving for a sick child or elder, for instance — won’t throw you for a loop because you know your school is flexible.
- You don’t have to drive in heavy traffic or through bad weather, and you don’t have to search for a parking space when you get to campus.
- You won’t have stress about being shy or making small talk with classmates. You can be known by the content of your work — the answers you provide on discussion forums, for instance.
Attending an online program can be less expensive because you don’t need to move near campus, pay for public transit or the costs of maintaining and parking a vehicle. Online instructors often use e-textbooks or other materials rather than traditional and more costly textbooks.
One of the best benefits of attending online school programs is that you gain personal skills. Here are a few of them:
- Attending college requires discipline, but the extra freedom of online schooling especially helps a student learn to manage time, meet deadlines and be accountable for getting the work done.
- You will work with other students on concepts and projects, and sometimes in teams. This will require you to hone your communication and collaboration skills.
- Time management is a skill that’s essential for success at home and work, and meeting regular deadlines reinforces the importance of managing your time and keeping commitments.
Most online school programs require students to use a learning management system (LMS). Students benefit because:
- You’ll be a much more savvy user of technology after attending lectures, writing and recording your papers, and attending chat and video conferences. You’ll likely be exposed to online calendars for scheduling your tasks and time.
- The instructors at online colleges often come from industry and tend to put a great deal of emphasis on critical thinking skills, as those are highly valued in every industry and sector.
Online colleges may be more likely to give you credit for what you already know. They do it in these ways:
- They will evaluate courses you have already passed at other schools to assess whether the credits will count toward your degree path.
- They may consider whether your life, work or volunteer experiences could count toward the credits required for a degree. Every school uses its own criteria and methods of assessing experiences.
Reputable schools — including those with online programs — are accredited, which ensures the school meets standards of quality set by the accrediting agency. To check whether a school you are considering is accredited, visit the U.S. Department of Education.
Access to instructors
At a traditional campus, students who want to meet one-on-one with an instructor must show during identified office hours. That’s typically not the case with online school programs. These programs typically allow students to communicate with the instructor by email whenever the need arises, and to schedule video or voice chats regularly.
Many online schools host larger virtual study groups where students can swap study tips and encouragement, share screens and brainstorm ideas. Such students get good at “virtual community,” especially compared to on-ground students who take part in virtual study groups only occasionally.
When you attend an online school, your peers are often from other states and countries. This offers a rich opportunity to form professional friendships and networks. It also expands your cultural awareness, setting you up for more success in a diverse work world.