I am a big fan on online degrees and education opportunities. I completed by BA online; I am currently enrolled in an online MBA program; and I work for another college in a graduate online program in education. However I am also a realist; who would rather tell the facts then sugar-coat the pitfalls of online college education today.
So just a bit of background...
Way back in 1998, I had my very first experience with 'online learning'. And it wasn't very good or impressive. I was in a Engineering Design class and the professor had deployed this online learning platform where the entire class could collaborate on a final project. The chat software and file management system were extremely buggy. We had to do online quizzes of our units, and if you opened multiple browser windows, then you had unlimited opportunities basically to do the quiz. Very underwhelming...but that was also 1998.
My next taste of online education was very different. It was technically a hybrid class; with required lectures twice per week and all homework and quizzes were online. It actually made great sense to me....why waste class time on an exam and homework review? It was an Accounting class....so at first I was skeptical. But soon it made perfect sense! Modern accounting is computer-based anyway (except for the old-school accountants who prefer hand writing a general ledger....but they are a fast dying breed). You would work on the assignment online and once submitted, get instant feedback on your mistakes and areas you need to work on (the textbook had a companion website with the assignment spreadsheets included). Online tests were timed; so while they were open book, you still didn't stand a chance of passing if you didn't truly know what you were doing.
When the opportunity arose to complete my BA, I didn't hesitate to plan to do so with online classes. What I soon discovered was the very wide range of quality in online learning. From horrible (one course professor just uploaded scanned pdf's to a wiki and then required that we go to a local test proctor to be examined on them. No teaching, no class interaction, nothing); to wonderful (I had an online statistics class where the professor filmed herself talking, giving a short introduction to the units and also recorded herself giving software demonstrations on her laptop). Most classes are in-between however; having some good points...but leaving some things to be desired. Just like face-to-face classes!
I will be the first to say that online learning is not for everyone...maybe not even most people. Every year as software advances and professors/educators incorporate that technology into courses, it improves. But we still aren't there yet! But after earning 50+ credits online, I have these pointers to give:
-Stay organized - learn to use the LMS (Learning Management System; i.e. Blackboard, Angel, eCollege, etc.) well. More than likely it contains features that will help you manage your documents, communicate with others, and remind you of deadlines. -Communicate well, and often! Especially to your professors; and also to your classmates. If you need help, you will know who to reach out to and where to get it. -Work in advance! Know your deadlines! I will freely admit I've been that person typing my fingers to the bone at 11:15 p.m....trying to make a midnight deadline. It is NOT a good feeling and you never do as well as you could have. The main advantage to online learning is the time flexibility...so DO use it to your advantage! -Don't dwell on the shortcomings of the course, the software, your professor, etc. In our consumer-driven society, we are quick to sit back, criticize, and hold the stubborn stance when things aren't to our liking. We forget that we are in college to earn a degree...and you can't do that without getting a passing grade! So see the problem(s)...but don't dwell on them. They are challenges for your to overcome, not issues for your professor or school to fix. Even if they really are, concentrate on working the course to get the best grade you can. Trust me on this! -If there is a campus...visit it. I am a firm believer that your psychological well-being is imperative to your success. Walking around the campus gives you a "charge" and helps you feel connected to your school. I'll even go out on a limb and suggest buying a college sweatshirt, going to your school's sporting events, or joining a student club (if possible). If you are excited and invested in your college and your studies....you'll really excel! (And it helps when you are an alumni as well). -Make your voice heard! Working for an online college program and being an online college student I know that the saying, "Out of sight, out of mind" is absolutely true! Students in the online program call me all the time wondering why their adviser didn't notice that they registered for the wrong class, or why didn't I notify them that their paperwork for their internship was outstanding. To be fair, these things are updated online, but the student must access the system to discover it. I have no issue talking to a student or helping them. But if you have questions or problems...you have to come to me! I don't spend my days scanning the online courses and student databases, identifying potential student issues! And neither do professors. Another thing that gets me are the online students who write asking for letters of recommendations. These are very hard to do...if you didn't engage yourself outside of your online course.
The most successful online college students are not the ones who log in and do their homework on time. That will get you to pass; and you may even earn your degree, but an opportunity is still being missed. A great online student experience is one where you find ways to be 'a college student who happens to take their courses online' and not just someone who logs into a system and does work. Online classes open up higher education to a much larger population. It's a great opportunity; the question remains, "Are you going to use it to your greatest advantage?"