Traditional colleges are facing a number of challenges recently, including rising tuition, major cuts in funding and budgets, and fewer course options for on-campus students because of said budget cuts. Students today are looking for other options when deciding on their post-secondary studies. Some are turning to community colleges or other trades schools, while those who want to continue with a college-level education are drifting more and more towards alternative learning options, like taking their degree program entirely online.
How online learning works
Online college classes are just as—if not more—effective than traditional on-campus classes. Some courses are synchronous, meaning students have to log onto course lectures remotely at designated times to conference into the lesson given by the professor. However, some courses are not synchronous, and professors and instructors upload course information onto student portals like Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas, where students can review the lessons or presentations at a time that’s convenient for them.
Regardless of the nature of the online program, all students are required to submit their course assignments and homework through the portals for grading and feedback. Each assignment is designated through separate links, so for example, a research paper would have its own assignment link where students would upload their papers, and an exam would have its own link that students would click through to begin taking it. Feedback is given by professors either on the same assignment link via comments made directly on the portal or via email – the choice is usually left up to the discretion of the course instructor.
A common misconception about online learning is that the courses are easier than traditional courses. The required coursework is similar for online students and on-campus students with similar required readings and assignment deadlines. However, online students can engage with their peers and instructors via an online forum, which may make it seem like there is extra help available when really it’s comparable to having in-class discussions or one-on-one meetings with profs during office hours.
There are many reasons to take courses online rather than in person, even if you don’t require any specific reason to do so.
It’s more flexible and convenient
For asynchronous courses, the hours are much more flexible than traditional college hours. You can log on at your convenience and study the coursework any time, so long as you complete the assignments before their deadlines. For synchronous courses, you are able to log on and join the lecture from anywhere you like, although you may be required to take an exam at a learning center to ensure there’s no cheating. Some schools choose to have online proctoring services supervise you while you write your exam instead, so even your exams may be done remotely too. This is especially beneficial for students who want to take courses over the summer, or in cases where other schools offer courses, their primary school doesn’t, and then transfer the credits over.
The flexibility and convenience of picking your own schedule or avoiding a commute is key for students who are working full or part-time and don’t want to—or can’t—interrupt their career to study, as well as people who have families or other responsibilities and want flexible learning.
It’s more environmentally friendly
E-learning is much better for the environment than taking a course at a traditional on-campus college. In fact, there are almost eight times as many CO2 emissions from students who study on campus versus students who study online. Online students use much less gas, since they don’t have to drive and commute onto campus five days a week, and there are fewer cars on the road, meaning less carbon dioxide emissions. Also, since there aren’t as many students in classrooms, fewer resources are used, like heat and electricity to power the rooms, paper and printer ink, and any building materials like plastic, wood, or metal. Additionally, less waste is created from fewer students eating lunch on campus and throwing out the garbage.
There’s no lack of choice
If you're worried about studying online is that you won’t have as many course options, think again. Most schools around the world offer just as many courses online as they do on campus, so chances are, the program you are looking for is available as an e-learning course. From undergraduate programs in criminology to public safety courses from Wilfrid Laurier University to online master programs in computing science, the choices are vast and aren’t limited to your own home country.
Traditional on-campus schools are much more expensive than online courses when you factor in all the costs necessary. You will still need to pay a course fee and most likely will need to buy the required textbooks or e-books – although sometimes these are available online for free. There may be a student fee as well if you still get to enjoy some perks, but you will be able to forego other costs that most or all on-campus students need to pay, including:
Commuting costs like gas or transit passes
Meal plan costs for eating on campus
It’s a more effective way to learn
Those who are easily distracted in a classroom setting by other students may find it easier to concentrate in a library setting or their room at home, and therefore may get through the syllabus quicker and retain more of the information. Learning at your own pace is generally better for retention because if there’s something you don’t understand or need more explanation on, you can stop and focus on it until you fully get the concepts. Rather than having to go at the pace the professor sets and then not having a chance to come back and take a second look at it later, you can take as long as you need it. Likewise, if there are areas of the course that you feel more comfortable with, you can move faster through them and not have to wait for the rest of the class to continue.
More interaction with the professor
Online courses offer more chances to interact with your professors via online chats and discussion boards. Since you don’t have to wait for office hours to speak to your instructor, you can get the help you need when you need it.