Going to school online has come a long way in a very short time. Whether it’s a bachelor’s or master’s degree, a professional certificate or certification, earning a credential online may not be as different from a traditional education as you think.
Q: What do all students have in common?
A: They all go to school.
Are you wondering what your life will be like as an online student? You may be surprised at how easily you can integrate classes into your life. Let’s start by providing an overview of what you can expect online, then look at the alternative of going to school on campus.
The Life of an Online Student
At the start of a class, you’ll most likely receive an email from your instructor explaining the basics of the course and directing you to a classroom site containing a syllabus, a course overview and a list of assignments along with their due dates. This information is also contained in the classroom on the website.
Most courses are divided into lessons, and you’ll probably have one lesson per week to complete. You might be expected to watch a video or read designated online material and complete an individual or team project. You may be asked to participate in a conversation on a whiteboard or to take an online quiz. A team project might require further discussion and collaboration on a team paper.
Over the course of a semester, you’re likely to experience a variety of assignments in a variety of formats. You might lead a whiteboard discussion or critique one; you might develop a position paper and send it by email; you might create a presentation and post it to a web page. Your instructor will let you know how the work should be submitted, and he or she will be available for questions and provide graded feedback on your work.
At Your Service
One nice thing about learning online is the amount of attention you receive from your instructors. Naturally, they all have regular office hours. But since instructors can log on 24/7 just like you, many work a few odd hours each day to stay current on their courses and make sure students stay current, too. It’s almost as if class is always in session.
Work at Your Own Pace
If you’re working full time, juggling a demanding job, a family or other personal commitments, then you’ll appreciate how online study makes things convenient. You can complete much of your work when – and where – it fits into your schedule. Most likely, you’ll be responsible for completing and turning in an assignment every week. You will also be occasionally required to take part in an online “chat” or teleconference, or schedule some “team” time. The rest is up to you.
So whether you’re an early bird who likes to grab a cup of coffee and get some homework done before you leave for the office, or you’re a night owl who gets a second wind after a full day of work, a light dinner and a power nap, you’ll be able to get it all done on your own time. Breezing through familiar work or spending some extra time to digest challenging new material – the ability to work at your own pace is one of the things students enjoy most about online learning.
Further Challenges of On-Campus Education
It’s hard to pace yourself when you are marching to the beat of someone else’s drum, in this case your teacher’s. Your classes are scheduled for a particular day and time, and you’re expected to have all reading assignments completed before you go to class. Sometimes your teacher might spring a pop quiz; other times an unprepared student might steer an entire lesson in the wrong direction with in-class discussion of unrelated topics.
If you’re self-supporting, sleep-deprived and desperately seeking study time, finding a place to study may also be hard for you. You could use the campus library in between classes. In order to get a lot done during the day, you might have to lug a laptop around, so you can fit work into your free time. Finding a quiet place where you can work without interruptions will be necessary to make the most of every minute you have.
Can You Really Learn as Much Online as in a Traditional Classroom?
Now that we’ve given you a sense of the day-to-day differences, what about the results? Two studies answer the question unequivocally. In a paper and collection of articles entitled “The No Significant Difference Phenomenon,” Thomas Russell found there is “no significant difference in student outcomes based on the mode of education delivery (face-to-face or at a distance).”
Another article entitled “Measuring MBA Student Learning: Does Distance Make a Difference?” by Mark Kretovics of Kent State University and Jim McCambridge of Colorado State University, noted that “online MBA students reported significantly higher scores than on-campus students on the learning outcomes related to technology, quantitative analysis and theory skills.”
Finally, online courses give students time to prepare for the assignment, so they’re never caught off-guard by an instructor’s question. When anxiety is reduced, learning is enhanced.