According to a 2010 survey of online learning conducted by the Sloan Consortium, enrollments in online programs rose by nearly one million compared to just a year earlier, representing the largest-ever year-on-year increase. (sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/class_differences) The fact that so many people are opting for online programs over regular classroom-based education might suggest that there's some merit to this mode of learning. And for some students, there's a great deal to be gained: Whether it's a much-wanted promotion at work or a career shift you're looking for, distance learning programs can help you achieve your goals without throwing your current lifestyle off balance.
But distance education is not for everyone. The following are some distance learning pros and cons to help you decide whether or not online education makes sense for you.
The Pros of Distance Learning
Flexibility: Since distance learning programs do not require you to be physically present in a classroom or follow a predefined timetable, you are free to set your own schedule. Distance education provides you the flexibility to complete your coursework from anywhere, at any time, and at your own pace. Have an important chore to run in the morning? No problem-log in to complete your schoolwork that afternoon or later that night.
Learn and Earn: Many students who take online classes are full-time professionals looking to get ahead in their careers by completing undergrad or graduate degree programs. But even if you're not currently working full-time, distance learning courses offer you a flexible schedule that allows you to learn and earn at the same time, so that you can attend school plus hold down a regular job and pay your way through college.
No Geographical Boundaries: Since you can complete a distance-learning course from anywhere, you are not bound by geography. You can choose any school that offers the program you want, no matter where it's located-anywhere in the country, or even internationally. Plus, if you ever relocate, you do not have to worry about transferring to another school.
Economical: There may not be a lot of difference in tuition and fees when you compare online and traditional degrees, but distance education actually turns out to be more economic. You save on costs like fuel, parking, books, child care, and more. And since so many of these programs are self-paced, they can offer you the opportunity to graduate in less time than a traditional program. Less time spent in college equals lower educational costs.
Technologically Savvy: Distance-learning programs make use of sophisticated technology to impart education. By accessing study material electronically, submitting assignments via websites, and participating on online forums to interact with professors and classmates on a day-to-day basis, distance learning students can become more technologically savvy than their classroom counterparts.
The Cons of Distance Learning
Perception of Quality: Despite its popularity and growth, the quality and validity of distance education is often questioned. The biggest reason for this prejudice against distance learning is the presence of online "diploma mills" that hand out fake degrees. The only way to beat this bias is to make sure you earn your online degree from a properly accredited institution.
Lack of Interaction: Many students consider the lack of interaction-both student-student and student-professor-one of the biggest disadvantages of distance learning. Online classes can make them feel isolated, and they may find it difficult to form long-lasting relationships with their classmates or establish a rapport with their instructors.
Self-Directed Learning: Distance learning is primarily self-directed. This may not work very well for the students who need more instruction and supervision from their professors, particularly for the more complex parts of their coursework. Self-directed learning can make a student a self-starting and independent learner, but it's not for everyone.
Temptation to Procrastinate: The temptation to procrastinate can be immense when it comes to online education, as you are on a self-imposed schedule. Therefore a student needs to be focused, disciplined, and motivated to complete a distance learning program.
Campus Life: By taking classes online, students do miss out on the activities associated with campus life. From cultural events to inter-college games, from prom nights to graduation, distance learning students do not get to experience the spirit of college. But some students consider that a small price to pay for getting the quality education that may have otherwise been beyond their reach.