Are You a Good Candidate for Online Education?
October 9th, 2012
By Jacqueline Foster, Editor
Working adults, stay-at-home parents, military personnel, and other nontraditional students are increasingly drawn to online degree programs because of their flexibility and convenience. After all, who really wants to commute to a college campus after a long day at work? The appeal of earning a degree from the comfort of one’s own home has led to an increase in online college course attendance over the years. In fact, the Sloan Consortium reports that in a 2011 Survey of Online Learning, the number of college students taking at least one online course in 2010 has grown to more than 6 million, meaning close to one-third of all college students were taking at least one online course. However, just because online education is an appealing option doesn’t mean everyone is a good fit for taking courses online, according to a recent article in the Boston Globe.
Successful online students must be adept at working with technology, installing and using software programs, and communicating electronically via email, instant message, and videoconferencing, all skills that may be lacking in some older adults. In addition, online students must have a reliable, high-speed Internet connection and a processor that can handle heavy video content, the article explains. In the event that Internet connection fails, students need to have a backup. Since not all online colleges offer 24/7 technical support, students must be comfortable troubleshooting technical issues they encounter in their program. After all, deadlines don’t always wait for technical difficulties.
Online students must also be fast at typing and comfortable with doing a significant amount of writing, since most communication in an online course takes place in writing. Many online students underestimate the amount of time it takes simply to participate in online class discussions, let alone complete written assignments like essays and research papers. Students must not only read their fellow students’ comments on online message boards, but must also respond substantially in writing. In a traditional classroom, these sorts of class discussions take place instantaneously, but in the online world, they require much more time and careful thought. And since such online discussions typically count toward a student’s grade, students can’t skip out on them.
Beyond technical and writing skills, online students must possess a variety of personal traits in order to be successful. Those include the ability to learn and work independently, and the ability to manage time effectively and not procrastinate, the article explains. Many students enroll in online programs thinking they possess these qualities, and end up dropping classes when life gets in the way of their studies. Others quickly fall behind in their assignments because they don’t have a professor in front of them reminding them when assignments are due or walking them through difficult concepts. Still others struggle with the lag time in getting their questions answered; rather than raising their hand in class and having their question answered immediately, students must often email their questions and wait for a response, or wait for online office hours.
Part of the problem for new online learners is the expectation that online courses will be easier, which is a common misconception. In fact, many students find online courses to be more challenging than traditional ones because of all the additional writing. Because so many students have difficulties adjusting to the online classroom, many online colleges and universities suggest that students take self-evaluation before enrolling in online courses, the article notes. These self-evaluations ask a series of questions that gauge whether or not the individual is a good candidate for online education. Students considering online courses would do well to consider the potential challenges of online learning and do an honest self-evaluation of their likelihood of succeeding in such courses.