Making the decision to go back to school, whether it’s to add an addition skill to your resume or change careers entirely, is a big decision. It’s not something you should enter into lightly.
After you’ve made the decision to officially go back to school, there are a lot of other things to consider such as cost, location, time, course availability, and more. One decision you’ll have to make very early on in your journey is whether you will attend classes at a brick-and-mortar institution or in an online environment.
Online courses have been around a lot longer than you might think. The first online courses were offered by the University of Illinois using an Intranet of connected computers for students in 1960. That’s 9 years before the U.S. Department of Defense invented the Internet. However, the concept of distance learning is more than 170 years old with its origins in mail correspondence courses offered in Great Britain.
In addition to having a long history with a lot of successful students, online learning continues to grow in popularity and online enrollment rates could even quadruple in the next ten years. According to Tracking Distance Education in the United States, a study conducted by Babson Survey Research Group, online enrollments continue to increase whether the economy is expanding or shrinking and whether overall enrollments are growing or decreasing. Here are 7 additional reasons you might want to consider completing online courses to achieve your education goals.
1. You’ll get access to more courses and specialized learning.
Babson Research Group found that the number of students studying on campus is declining.
In fact, the number dropped by nearly 1.2 million students between 2012 and 2016. However, online enrollments continue to increase due in large part to the ability to take specialized courses from anywhere in the world. It used to be that you had to live near a college campus or be willing to drive to one in order to advance your education.
Once you got to campus, you were limited to the courses offered by that institution. If the program or courses you wanted weren’t available, you had to choose a different path. Online education has opened up a world of possibilities to anyone, regardless of location.
2. You’ll get to learn at your own pace.
Most online programs are asynchronous, meaning that students are able to engage with course content and complete assignments when it is best for them.
Whether you work better early in the morning, during your lunch break, or even after midnight, online classes allow you the flexibility to study whenever you want. Students can also take their time as they move through course materials. If a particular concept is proving more difficult to understand, they can slow down instead of being forced to move on before grasping the topic because the rest of the class is at a different pace. (This can also be good for people who are catching on more quickly and want to work faster than the average pace in the class.)
The International Society for Technology in Education has published numerous articles on self-paced education. They have found that self-paced learning allows people to think for themselves resulting in better concentration, quicker mastery of material, more time for relevant feedback from instructors, and a boost in self-confidence.
3. Your lifestyle makes classroom learning difficult.
You’ve probably heard that online programs are perfect for working professionals or parents who can’t afford to attend classes during normal classroom hours.
But online classes are great for any person with any type of lifestyle. The 2011 National Online Learners Priorities Report showed that online learners are most drawn to its convenience, flexibility, respected institutions and teachers, and cost.
Many studies indicate a fairly even split between female and male online learners, though most show that slightly more females than males are currently enrolled, and the ages of students vary widely (from 18-55+), but most show an average of around 34 years old.
Whether you have an unpredictable travel schedule, work nights and weekends, have very little free time, are deployed to another country, or just simply want the freedom to study when you want, online courses can provide you with the flexibility you need.
4. You want to change careers or environments.
It’s important to obtain the right education and credentials to help you achieve your goals when you’re looking to change careers or advance in your current one.
According to the National Center for Education and Statistics (NCES), 27 percent of adults reported having a postsecondary certificate, certification or license, and 48 percent of adults with a graduate or professional degree also reported having a work credential meaning that continuing education is important.
In fact, most of the adults surveyed reported that their work credentials were “very useful for getting a job (82 percent), keeping a job (80 percent), remaining marketable to employers or clients (81 percent), and improving work skills (66 percent).”
5. Online learning is gaining respect.
According to the 2013 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Online Learning Consortium, nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of academic leaders rate online courses as resulting in the same or even superior learning outcomes for students as those found in face-to-face environments.
The change in perceptions can be attributed to advances in technology which provide richer learning experiences for students. Online students now have access to video lectures and demos, online quizzes and tests, discussions and chat areas for conversing with instructors as well as peers which make these courses just as effectively as a classroom if not more.
6. You may get more personal attention in online courses.
There are more ways than ever for students to connect with instructors and classmates even in online environments including discussion boards, video chats, and email.
Research shows that students may even get more personal attention in an online environment where, according to U.S. News and World Report, average class sizes are 19 students. Average class sizes at public universities were found to be 26.3 students, and many entry-level courses on campus have class sizes of 150 students or more.
In addition to personal attention, online courses are often taught by experts in the subject matter. With online courses, you aren’t limited to which professor is teaching at a particular location. You can find an expert you admire, and learn from that person no matter where you are.
7. Online courses can be cost-effective.
Not all online courses have a lower tuition than campus-based courses.
In fact, Inside Higher Ed did a study in 2017 which found that in 75 percent of cases there was no difference in the cost of tuition in online programs when compared with face-to-face instruction. However, the associated expenses are almost always less for online programs.
With online programs, you don’t have a commute, you won’t have to take time off work, and you probably won’t need additional childcare. Course materials and textbooks are also often included in the price of the online courses. In an online environment, especially when it comes to updating your skill set or earning a new credential, it is often possible to take only the classes you need specifically rather than a pre-determined set of courses that make up most traditional programs.
Education Today recently posted the results from a survey which found that 87% of the job supervisors and managers of online students thought these students performed better on the job after completing their online program and 100% said that those who completed online programs compared favorably with traditional program graduates.
Online courses aren’t for everyone, but they do provide students with more course options; a way to learn at any time; a path to new and better career opportunities; personalized learning from experts; and a cost effective way to gain knowledge and skills. It might be time to try an online course again or even for the first time—it could be just the way to achieve that goal you’ve been dreaming about.