Is Online Learning Right for You?

What Are the Benefits of Online Learning?
  • Access and Opportunity: Online learners have new opportunities to enroll in courses that may not be available where they live and which allow them to manage work and family commitments.
  • Flexibility: Online learners can access course materials anytime and anywhere.
  • Economical: Online learners can save time and money by avoiding difficult commutes, which will allow them to spend more time learning and less time traveling.
  • Self-directed Learning: Online education focuses on a learner-centered paradigm which can promote and enhance self-directed and self-oriented learning. This helps students develop a goal-oriented mindset and self-paced learning style which can benefit a learner’s career and personal life in the long run.
  • Quality Education: The quality of online courses is just as good as that of traditional classes according to a recent report from the SLOAN-C (2013).
Common Characteristics of Online Learners
  • Drive to Achieve: Many online learners decide to pursue further education based upon their personal motivation to advance professionally.
  • Balance Multiple Commitments: Many online learners are non-traditional students (Myers-Wylie, Mangieri, & Hardy, 2009). This includes people with full or part-time jobs, married or single parents, retirees or the unemployed looking for a new career or professional development.
  • Awareness of Learning Styles and Preferences: Like all learners, online learners have different learning styles, such as auditory, visual, or kinesthetic (Myers-Wylie et al., 2009). They may have different technology preferences as well. For instance, while some people prefer to read books and articles on a computer screen, some still prefer to read printed material. Some students may benefit from using tools that support these preferences.
  • Diverse Backgrounds: There are no geographical or time limitations for taking online courses. The cohort of online students is very diverse in age, ethnicity, profession, and language. This may include international students and students with disabilities. Successful online learners embrace this and enjoy being a part of a diverse learning community.
  • Enjoy Learning Opportunities Relevant to Their Lives and Work: Online learners want to make sure that learning is meaningful to their personal and professional life (Myers-Wylie et al., 2009). Case studies, problem solving activities, simulations and other approaches that offer opportunities for students to connect learning to their own lives and work are most rewarding.

Online courses are by no means easy courses. You will be required to complete course readings and assignments, and be expected to get actively involved in all kinds of learning activities, just like in a face-to-face course. Most online courses are as demanding (if not more so) as face-to-face courses, and may have some different expectations for students. For example, you will be asked to spend more time participating in online discussions because online discussions play a crucial role in online learning. You will generally need to communicate your ideas in writing rather than verbally. In addition, you will be responsible for keeping up with the work and completing the learning tasks by specific deadlines.

Online learning does not necessarily work for everyone. In order to be a successful online learner, several qualities and competencies are important to consider. You will also need to have access to a computer that meets the minimum online course requirements. Please ask yourself these important questions before you decide to take an online course:

Are you a self-motivated and self-disciplined learner?

Online courses usually offer students flexibility in their schedule but as a result may have assignments that require you to work independently and as a part of virtual teams. No one will check your progress every day. This kind of learning environment requires students to take more initiative than in a face-to-face environment. You need to be self-motivated and self-disciplined to succeed as an online student.

Do you feel comfortable communicating with others through reading and writing?

Comfort expressing your ideas in writing and interest in reading others’ ideas in writing is especially helpful for learning online. Most of your communication will be through the written word. Thus, it is important for you as an online learner to feel comfortable in communicating through reading and writing.

Do you possess basic computer skills for taking online courses?

In online courses, you will use a computer to complete assignments, and will use the Internet to access the course site. Many assignments and communication with the instructor and your classmates will be conducted via the internet. If you are comfortable using these basic computer applications (Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, iTunes, etc.) and are not intimidated by learning and exploring new applications, you will be more likely to become a successful online learner.

Successful online learners possess many other qualities. For example, they never or rarely procrastinate, and they can filter out the constant disturbances that threaten their progress. If you are still not sure whether taking online courses is right for you, please take the Self Assessment for Online Learning Readiness Survey. This will help you determine whether online learning is a good choice for you.

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