“I was billed $1,170 for a course in which I have completely taught myself.”
— Disgruntled Online Student
Online learning degrees are all the rage – even the Ivy League schools are offering them – but do they honestly live up to all the media hype?
At GetEducated.com we’ve collected over 1,000 online university reviews from real students taking online classes and the watchful public at large. A recent analysis of all of the 1,000+ reviews reveals that not all online learning degrees are alike. In fact, there are a couple of real skunkers. Read what real students gripe about when it comes to their online learning experiences. Get Educated about what it’s like to be a distance degree student BEFORE you enroll.
Students' Top 5 Complaints Against Online Learning Degrees
1. Missing or Disengaged Professors
“Where’s my professor?” is the most frequent and vitreous complaint when it comes to online learning. Students sometimes feel online learning is impersonal, isolating, and non-interactive. They sometimes feel their online teachers are not particularly interested in neither them nor the instructional process.
“Quality of professors varies widely. Some are great, some are not so great. However, most of the ones I had were not so great.”
“$2,800 [did not] buy me … an instructor who replies to e-mails.”
“I have not been impressed with some of the instructors … There is no communication, feedback or support. I feel I am on my own and have to learn the information myself or fail.”
"When I graduate this fall, I do so with a 42k student loan debt. This wouldn't bother me so much IF the education I received was taught by the engaging "industry experts" both schools advertized in their promotional materials. While I'm sure (for legal reasons only) the instructors are qualified to teach at the college level, evidently possessing a "desire" to help a student excel and succeed in academia is not a hiring criteria. In short, the majority of faculty I have been saddled with are collecting a pay check without regard to the quality of service being provided… I was billed $1,170 for a course in which I have completely taught myself."
“I must admit that these are my first online courses, but I expected a lot more interaction with the professors. Essentially this program is nothing more than independent study with a class webpage to submit homework and take quizzes and tests. There are no lectures or interaction with your instructor except by email; not my idea of a college class.”
“…the level of faculty interaction has been, in my experience, mostly nonexistent. With the exception of one or two professors, I never saw any feedback on my discussion board postings, nor any of my comments to other student’s work. Rarely, in the case of a major paper, I would receive a ‘cookie-cutter’ response cheerleading me along (by telling me what I great job I was doing)… you quickly get the sense that students are herded through the curriculum as fast as possible in their paths toward graduation. This is, in my opinion, [this school's] greatest weakness.”
2. Poor Customer Service & Advising
A debate rages inside higher education about whether or not students looking for online learning degrees should be seen as “customers.” Equally debatable is the notion of whether a university is obligated to take a customer-service approach to online learning. Our crowd sourced commentary leaves no doubt where most students themselves fall in this debate...
“Applying for [this] program has been the most horrid gut-wrenching experience I have had in college (and I have been to three before this one). After 2 and 1/2 months of not knowing where my application was, who was supposed to have it, or what the status of my application was, I finally called them eight times … Afterwards, they kicked me over to the MBA coordinator who was absolutely committed to not talking to me …”
“[This school] is attempting to increase their enrollment numbers, but in my mind this is going to further deplete the level of service of an already over-extended academic advising team. I’m not sure how that’s going to work out for them.”
“The Graduate School office staff is very friendly on the phone, when you can get through to them. They have been moderately helpful but pretty slow to get back to you either by phone or email. They are also not terribly knowledgeable about the program … Follow up calls and emails have also gone unanswered. I also have never had my transcripts evaluated to determine which courses I may need to take. This process has gone on for months. The advising process … I would give a well deserved F.”
3. Hate the Group Assignments & Team Projects
Our student blogger, David Handlos, once wrote about his first online learning program: “the words ‘group assignment’ filled me with dread.” Our student blogger has a crowd of company. One of online learning’s dirty little secrets is that group projects are popular with some online schools not because they are educationally appropriate, but because they require less time to respond to, track, and grade. Group assignments are very cost-effective from an administrative point of view. Some online colleges mandate group work. The rise of a for-profit business model inside the online learning degree sector has turned group assignments into a favored cost-cutting instructional device.
"The 'team' approach … can be frustrating because the University seems to accept anyone regardless of whether (s)he can write, spell, or is interested in doing quality work."
“Further, due to the open enrollment nature of the university (which I generally regard as a positive), there can be a vast gulf between the knowledge and experience of cohort members. This can stymie advancement of discussion.”
“While I think student-to-student interaction is useful, some courses have had way too many group projects and it always seems only one or two people end up doing all the work.”
4. Poor Overall Quality Control
To obtain an online learning degree, students have to gain admission, meet degree requirements, pass exams, obtain financial aid, find textbooks, and complete and defend a thesis or final project. That means there are lots of places besides the instructional process where the online learning experience can fall apart. Alas, according to some online students, occasionally it does.
“To sum it up: The administration is poorly organized, their internal protocol is not student friendly, and they take forever to fix any problems that arise. If I could do it again, I would go to a real university - one that would allow me to be proud of the work I put into the degree; one that truly has the best interests of the students at heart.”
“The program itself is sound; the materials are great. However, the quality and responsiveness of the mentors vary. There is no apparent obligation for the mentors to be timely or accountable. Some take far too long to grade while others do not make their criteria for grading evident before assignments are due or even after they are done and graded. Some mentors are active in discussion while others are totally absent. Some are too active. The program lacks adequate oversight …”
“Good luck trying to determine how to drop a class and no verifiable way exists to know if your "adviser" accomplished the drop for you. Poorly run in every way is this school. Take the GMAT/GRE or not, but find something better.”
5. Poor Online Course Design
Online learning degrees don't always come with the snazziest or most user friendly web-based courses. Creating a great online learning course takes time, money, and talent in user interface and aesthetic design alike - things some universities may not be quite willing to splurge on. Online students are noticing problems in the overall quality of course materials and the integration of instructional materials with testing protocols.
“The course lessons generally consist of reading about a particular subject and doing a few short exercises within the text … Honestly, you could probably get the same instruction from a book.”
“The courses are poorly constructed and inconsistent. The projects are not derived from the textbook, but the tests are.”
“In math heavy classes, there was no use of visual aids during lectures. Instead, only audio recordings were used. It's often difficult to learn math without the use of visual aids illustrating problem solving methods. The technology is there, it just wasn't used for some reason.”
“In [this] program you will be studying outdated information. The assigned reading on technology was published in 1980. One of the assignments said we could submit it on bond paper. That sounds like something written in 1980 too. So instead of learning about SAAS, cloud computing and other issues relevant TODAY, you will learn about not enough memory or hard disk space and floppy disks. You will be thrown questions in a midterm exam that were not a part of the information studied; be presented with questions that do not correspond to the assigned readings; get Yes/No questions on Essay exams, and you will be asked to answer vaguely worded questions asking for absolutes.”
The Good News About Online Learning...
Are all online degree students this disgruntled? Of course not. In fact, most students pursuing online learning degrees rate their programs very favorably. The vast majority of reviews posted on Get Educated from verified online students are highly positive, giving their online learning programs either an A or an A-. Not much to complain about there! For this posting, we pulled and examined only the most common type of complaints students have when undertaking online learning. We found the results interesting, and wanted to share them with both online administrators and future distance degree students themselves. Want to help America get educated about the best and worst online learning degrees? We invite students, faculty, and the general public to post reviews of the more than 3,000 online degrees archived in the Get Educated online college directory system. Review, rant or rave about your online learning degree program today! Note: Online college reviews received by October 15, 2012 will be included in a final calculation of Get Educated’s first official rankings of America’s Best Online Colleges based on verified online student reviews and crowd-sourced ratings.
About the Author: Vicky Phillips was cited in 2009 by US News & World Report as "for 20 years the leading consumer advocate for online college students." In 1989 she designed America's first online counseling center for distance learners on AOL. In 1998 she authored the first print guide to online graduate degrees - Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools put out by the Princeton Review. In 2001 she authored Never Too Late to Learn the Adult Student's Guide to College.
Image Credit: Daniel X. O'Neil/flickr