The Benefits of Online Education

Question: What are some of the advantages of attending college online?

[Answer] Online education is known for its flexibility, but studies have identified several additional benefits of attending class online. Among them:

·         Communication: Many students are more comfortable engaging in meaningful discussions online than in a classroom. These students might have hearing or speech impairments; speak different languages; have severe social anxiety; or simply need more time to organize their thoughts.

·         Personalized learning: Not all students learn the same way. Web-based learning allows instructors to deliver the same content using different media, like videos or simulations, personalizing learning. Online classes providing round-the-clock access to materials and lectures also let students study when they feel most focused and engaged.

·         Accessibility: Online programs transcend time, geographic, and other barriers to higher education. This can be helpful for those who work full-time, live in remote regions, or serve in the military.

·         Adaptability: Learning management systems that integrate text-to-speech and other adaptive technologies support learners with physical, behavioural, and learning challenges.

·         Efficiency: Studies show online students tend to achieve the same learning results in half the time as classroom-based students.

·         Engagement: Online instructors can use games, social media, virtual badges, and other engaging technologies to motivate students and enhance learning.

How Online Education Works

Question: How does online education work on a day-to-day basis?

[Answer] Instructional methods, course requirements, and learning technologies can vary significantly from one online program to the next, but the vast bulk of them use a learning management system (LMS) to deliver lectures and materials, monitor student progress, assess comprehension, and accept student work. LMS providers design these platforms to accommodate a multitude of instructor needs and preferences. While some courses deliver live lectures using video conferencing tools, others allow students to download pre-recorded lectures and use message boards to discuss topics. Instructors may also incorporate simulations, games, and other engagement-boosters to enhance learning. Students should research individual programs to find out how and when they would report to class; how lectures and materials are delivered; how and how much they would collaborate with faculty and peers; and other important details.

The Effectiveness and Credibility of Online Education

Question: Is online education as effective as face-to-face instruction?

[Answer] Online education may seem relatively new, but years of research suggests it can be just as effective as traditional coursework, and often more so. According to a U.S. Department of Education analysis of more than 1,000 learning studies, online students tend to outperform classroom-based students across most disciplines and demographics. Another major review published the same year found that online students had the advantage 70 percent of the time, a gap authors projected would only widen as programs and technologies evolve.

While these reports list several plausible reasons students might learn more effectively online—that they have more control over their studies, or more opportunities for reflection—medium is only one of many factors that influence outcomes. Successful online students tend to be organized self-starters who can complete their work without reporting to a traditional classroom. Learning styles and preferences matter, too. Prospective students should research programs carefully to identify which ones offer the best chance of success.

Question: Do employers accept online degrees?

[Answer] All new learning innovations are met with some degree of scrutiny, but scepticism subsides as methods become more mainstream. Such is the case for online learning. Studies indicate employers who are familiar with online degrees tend to view them more favourably, and more employers are acquainted with them than ever before. The majority of colleges now offer online degrees, including most public, not-for-profit, and Ivy League universities. Online learning is also increasingly prevalent in the workplace as more companies invest in web-based employee training and development programs.

Choosing Online Degree Programs

Question: How do I know if online education is right for me?

[Answer] Choosing the right degree program takes time and careful research no matter how one intends to study. Learning styles, goals, and programs always vary, but students considering online colleges must consider technical skills, ability to self-motivate, and other factors specific to the medium. A number of colleges and universities have developed assessments to help prospective students determine whether they are prepared for online learning. You can access a compilation of assessments from many different colleges online. Online course demos and trials can also be helpful, particularly if they are offered by schools of interest. Students can call online colleges and ask to speak an admissions representative who can clarify additional requirements and expectations.

Question: How do I know if an online degree program is credible?

[Answer] As with traditional colleges, some online schools are considered more credible than others. Reputation, post-graduation employment statistics, and enrolment numbers are not always reliable indicators of quality, which is why many experts advise students to look for accredited schools. In order for an online college to be accredited, a third-party organization must review its practices, finances, instructors, and other important criteria and certify that they meet certain quality standards. The certifying organization matters, too, since accreditation is only as reliable as the agency that grants it. Students should confirm online programs’ accrediting agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation before submitting their applications.

Online Student Support Services

Question: Do online schools offer the same student support services as traditional colleges?

[Answer] Colleges and universities tend to offer online students many of the same support services as campus-based students, though they may be administered differently. Instead of going to a campus library, online students may log in to virtual libraries stocked with digital materials, or work with research librarians by phone or email. Tutoring, academic advising, and career services might rely on video conferencing software, virtual meeting rooms, and other collaborative technologies. Some online colleges offer non-academic student support services as well. For example, Western Governor University’s Student Assistance Program provides online students with 24/7 access to personal counselling, legal advice, and financial consulting services. A list of student support services is usually readily available on online colleges’ websites.

Technical Skills and Considerations

Question: What technical skills do online students need?

[Answer] Online learning platforms are typically designed to be as user-friendly as possible: intuitive controls, clear instructions, and tutorials guide students through new tasks. However, students still need basic computer skills to access and navigate these programs. These skills include: using a keyboard and a mouse; running computer programs; using the Internet; sending and receiving email; using word processing programs; and using forums and other collaborative tools. Most online programs publish such requirements on their websites. If not, an admissions adviser can help.

Students who do not meet a program’s basic technical skills requirements are not without recourse. Online colleges frequently offer classes and simulations that help students establish computer literacy before beginning their studies. Microsoft’s online digital literacy curriculum is one free resource.

Question: What technology requirements must online students meet? What if they do not meet them?

[Answer] Technical requirements vary from one online degree program to the next, but most students need at minimum high-speed Internet access, a keyboard, and a computer capable of running specified online learning software. Courses using identity verification tools and voice- or web-conferencing software require webcams and microphones. Scanners and printers help, too. While online schools increasingly offer mobile apps for learning on-the-go, smartphones and tablets alone may not be sufficient.

Most online colleges list minimum technology requirements on their websites. Students who do not meet these requirements should contact schools directly to inquire about programs that can help. Some online schools lend or provide laptops, netbooks, or tablets for little to no cost, though students must generally return them right away if they withdraw from courses. Other colleges may offer grants and scholarships to help cover technical costs for students who qualify.