Is an online education equivalent to an on-campus education? In many cases, yes.
In fact, online education is proven to have significant advantages over the classroom experience – and some of them may surprise you.
1. You are not limited by geography
The tremendous advances in technology have made higher education more accessible than ever. With a computer and access to the internet, the entire world of education can be at your fingertips, no matter where you live.
This is hardly an exaggeration when you consider that in recent years, very prestigious schools such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford have been offering complete, non-credit courses online for free through what are known as MOOCs (massive open online courses). MOOCs generally have the same professors and study materials that you would receive if you went to college in person.
It was probably inevitable that schools would begin to try to monetize all the material they provide online. In 2013, Georgia Tech became the first school to create a MOOC-based degree program. The University of Illinois followed suit two years later. Today, more than 30 traditional schools offer MOOC-based degrees, thanks to partnerships with technology companies like Coursera, edX and Udacity.
But MOOCs are just the tip of the online learning iceberg. Digital and traditional institutions are also perfecting more intimate online learning options, with smaller classes and more one-on-one interactions between professors and students. Online degree options abound, and if you can’t find the offering you want at a local university, you can probably find it at another school.
So whether you’re looking to get your degree to land a 9-to-5 job or study the stars with the world’s best astronomers, you’ll likely find what you’re looking for online.
2. Online learning can be more interesting than classroom learning
A recent Forbes article provides an overview of the state of online learning. Researchers have begun to study the effectiveness of online learning compared to classroom instruction. So far, the results are promising.
A study from California State University, San Bernadino, found that two different groups of students – one who studied online and one who went to class – who received the same instruction from the same professor had the same performance results. However, the study found that the online students were less intimidated by their participation and that the interaction between the students and the professor was of higher quality.
In addition, the Forbes article notes that online courses are more likely to present material in attention-grabbing multimedia formats that may be better suited for today’s students.
The bottom line: Educators have long known that not everyone absorbs information in the same way, but teaching methods have struggled to adapt. If you’re someone whose eyes glaze over during a lecture, you may find that you respond better to online learning approaches.
3. Feedback is faster and more frequent
Believe it or not, online learners can actually have more contact with their educators than classroom learners.
Online students are typically asked to complete more frequent assessments so that instructors can monitor their skills. This way, learning gaps can be identified and corrected more quickly, rather than letting a struggling student fall through the cracks until exam time.
Remember, it’s not just about the GPA. When you’re paying thousands of dollars for an education, you don’t want to be hiding in the back corner of the classroom. You want to make sure you understand the course material so you can apply it later.
4. Online college can be a more cost-effective way to earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree.
What’s the biggest difference between an online school and a traditional school? The campus, obviously. If you attend a traditional university, you’re probably going to spend several thousand dollars a year on room and board and transportation.
Online college takes all of those expenses out of the equation, giving you a five-figure discount while you’re in school. Score!
5. You could have a lot less student loan debt
In addition to not having to pay for housing, meals, and travel, studying online can reduce your costs in another extremely important way.
Most online programs are structured around the idea that students have a job, and perhaps a full-time job. Being able to continue working while pursuing an education means you may need to take on less student debt.
Less student loan debt means you will pay less interest on your student loan. Considering it takes most people nearly 20 years to pay off their student loan debt, reducing your total debt is one of the most important strategies you can take. Your future will thank you.
6. You have more control over your schedule
Absenteeism and scheduling conflicts are virtually eliminated from the online learning equation. While some programs may require attendance at online courses at certain times, those same courses are usually archived for future reference.
Because online learning is more flexible than classroom learning, students can work at their own pace. Those who need more time to grasp a concept can do so. Those who want to work faster can do so.
Flexible scheduling is also a huge plus for those who work full time or have childcare responsibilities that would prevent them from attending campus regularly. Think about it: a single mom whose babysitter cancelled at the last minute would be out of luck with a traditional education. With online education, she can still attend classes with the assurance that her child is taken care of.
7. The online classroom is good preparation for the changing workforce.
Becoming familiar with technology is a great side benefit of online education.
As technology advances, the workforce is becoming more distributed. Whether you are working with someone across the country or across the world, becoming adept with technology for video conferencing, messaging, information aggregation, and collaboration is a skill set you will likely need.
8. Online learning has a good reputation
Academics have seen the value of online learning for some time. A 2012 Babson/College Board study found that 77% of university officials felt that online education offerings were just as good or better than classroom offerings.
Employers are also getting this message. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report shows that more and more hiring managers are recognizing the value of online degrees, as long as they come from properly accredited institutions.
Our prediction on the future of online college
Online college options will continue to grow in popularity as costs decrease (thanks to better technology) and the quality of education continues to evolve and improve. Over the next generation, online learning will become more of a norm and less of a novelty.