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Bricks vs. Clicks?

January 10, 2008 By: Category: Distance Online Learning

Could an online education be for you?

With more than 1.5 million students enrolled in online programs, more and more students are considering an online education.  But online courses aren’t for everyone.  So how do you know if they’re for you? 

Online Course Benefits:
1) The obvious benefit is that you can attend classes anytime, from anywhere.  If you have a hectic schedule, live in a rural area or can’t make it to class, this might be the best option for you.

2) You can work at your own pace and tailor the program to your learning style.  Students can fast-forward when they are bored or play things over if they don’t quite get it. 

3) Online teachers are often active industry professionals.  Westwood College Online’s game art and design program features game design professionals that teach in their spare time.  With the flexibility of the online schedule, the courses can offer a variety of different types of teachers.

4)  Because online communication is less intimidating, online learners often communicate more with their fellow students and the teacher.  In a recent  story from NPR, online teachers reported to have a much more personal relationship with their online vs. brick and mortar students. 

5) Because students can attend from anywhere around the globe, the classes often offer a much more diverse perspective. 

Of course, there are drawbacks.

Online Drawbacks:
1) Online students really miss out on the campus experience.    From my personal experience as an 18 year old traditional student, I feel I learned the most valuable lessons through my college life outside of the classroom.

2) Some employers view online degrees as “less worthy”.  Although this is changing rapidly, there is still a stigma associated with online degrees which will take some time to overcome.  There is currently more acceptance of online graduate, technical and design degrees and the rest of the employers will eventually catch up, but it will just take some time. 

3) The lack of social interaction can be a problem.  Brick and mortar classes teach students how to communicate and interact in the real world.  This is especially an issue for students hoping to pursue careers that require skills in sales, public speaking, customer service, etc.  However, these skills are becoming increasingly important for technical careers, such as graphic design and information technology, because many of the jobs that don’t require collaboration and verbal communication are being shipped overseas. 

4) Self-motivation is certainly required.  Students that need more structure and motivation from their teachers may not be a good fit.  Many online courses do have scheduled times and some argue online classes actually encourage more attendance because students have to post a comment to prove they attended the class.  Depending on the situation, it may actually require less self-motivation to attend a small, close-knit online class than a class of 400 students that would never notice you were gone.

5) Assertiveness is a learned skill.   In an online course, everyone has a chance to participate and be heard.  While this can be a huge advantage, it is not indicative of the real world.  From my personal experience, I learned a lot about how to differentiate myself, build relationships and compete by going through the experience of “just being a number” at the University of Colorado – Boulder.