Who is Best Suited for Online Learning?
Any learning experience should be enjoyable and enriching. The question to ask is not, "Can I learn online," but "Should I learn online?" Prospective online students need to consider how they like to learn, because a thoughtful assessment of priorities, strengths, and goals will lead to the best decision.
Online learning benefits each student differently. Some students may need the time flexibility, where they can hop online and submit materials after hours or early in the morning before work. Others gravitate toward the location flexibility, being able to work from home, a coffee shop or anywhere else that fits into their lifestyle. And for those who need a hands-on element to their education, many online programs have the best of both worlds, allowing for remote coursework but including campus-based or other on-site laboratory experiences.
"Some students think online courses will be easier, but they're sadly mistaken. Online students shouldn't underestimate the need for self-discipline and structure."
DAVID SCHEJBAL Dean of Division of Continuing Education, Outreach, and E-Learning UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN - EXTENSION
Like classroom learners, online students need to be motivated. Beyond the desire to learn you need to be self-disciplined, have good time management skills, and be comfortable in an environment where it's just you and your computer. You need to be proactive and access the course frequently so you stay on top of the work. You’ll also need to be at ease communicating and interacting with other people without face-to-face contact.
Choosing an Online College or Program: Finding the right online learning opportunity may seem challenging. Whether new to distance learning or a seasoned veteran, it's important to identify the situation that meets your education, professional and financial needs. One starting point is to research and review a ranking of top online colleges. Browsing schools with demonstrated online learning excellence can give students a great place to start.
Second, make sure all target schools have been accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies and/or, if it's an online-only school, by the Distance Education and Training Council. Accreditation means potential colleges and its target programs have been thoroughly vetted by an independent higher education agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education (check out the best accredited online colleges of 2016). Finally, make sure you know exactly what you need from an online degree. The flexibility offered by many programs is great, but the curriculum, professors and resources should have the same quality as their campus counterparts. Don't be afraid to call up counselors and talk to current and former students.
"Accrediting bodies are starting to require that schools offer the same services to online students as they do to those on campus."
BETHANY BOVARD Instructional Designer SLOAN-C INSTITUTE: Once you've created your short list of schools based on the above criteria consider other factors that are important to you. For example, another aspect to think about is student support. Online learners have unique needs and it's important to select a program or school committed to serving those needs through various resources and support tools.
Lastly, assess how well, or even whether, the school trains its faculty to teach online. Not every professor is cut out for online teaching. He or she needs to be comfortable with technology and be able to engage a virtual audience. Looking at a school's faculty website pages might give you a sense of the resources and training related to online teaching that are available to faculty, as well as the school’s expectations of faculty who teach online.