The pros of completing college coursework online often outweigh the cons for a variety of modern students, including those who are trying to earn a degree while working full time as well as those who aren’t able to afford the standard financial commitment required by a four-year university.

Online colleges have come a long way since the early days of the dial-up modem, now integrating the power of the web and all its capabilities to distribute lectures and course materials to students located around the globe. In fact, even in the current economic recession, the popularity of online colleges vastly outpaces the growth of standard brick-and-mortar institutions by more than 10 to 1, with students using online course offerings to advance their education and career while saving costs associated with commuting and attending classes in a physical classroom.

In fact, a study conducted in 2008 by the National Survey of Student Engagement found that in the 769 institutions polled, those students who participated in online college classes more readily engaged in course activities that challenged them intellectually, participated in discussions that enhanced their understanding of different cultures, and took an overall deeper approach to learning in their coursework when compared to classroom-based students.

Pros vs. Cons

Deciding whether or not to pursue a course of study through an online university is a highly personal decision, factoring in time, finances and the level of self-motivation required (which is often quite considerable, leading some online students to fall short).

But by the numbers alone, online college is a far more cost effective solution, saving both time and money.

Advantages of Distance Learning

Convenience

Attend classes at home, in an airport or slouched in a chair at your favorite Starbucks. As long as you have a reliable Internet connection, you can view lectures, read course material and turn in assignments.

Flexible

Online colleges provide a level of flexibility almost impossible to obtain through a standard classroom environment, including course materials readily available online and the freedom to interact with them at any point, enabling students to schedule college around other commitments, often including work or family.

Extended access

For those living in rural areas, this is a big plus. Online colleges provide access to a wealth of information and experience that many who can’t afford to travel far from home might never be able to take part in. This solution also makes online courses great for supplementing degrees at small colleges, allowing students to take specialized coursework that also counts toward their degree.

Disadvantages of Distance Learning

Technical Requirements

Completing an online college course successfully requires a certain level of tech savvy. This encompasses both the use of a computer or mobile device and also includes a myriad of software that may be required to obtain course materials and turn in assignments. When considering online colleges, computer skills are a must.

Scheduling

This is where some students struggle. Online courses require a high degree of self-motivation and discipline. Maintaining the schedule recommended in the syllabus is essential to avoid getting bogged down and missing a due date. In addition, some online courses may require participation in online events that are held at specific dates and times, adding an extra requirement for scheduling while also enforcing students to be current on the material, enabling them to participate in a meaningful way within the discussion.

Expectations

Online students work independently and are therefore somewhat isolated from the traditional social engagement often found through college life. This is one of the primary differences between online offerings and the traditional classroom, with the online experience focused on the course material while a traditional program integrates the material with extracurricular activities. One solution to overcome this lack of interaction for online students is to pair their coursework with an internship, providing both the classroom material as well as face-to-face interaction with those related to their field of study.