The prospect of studying at an online college has come a long way in recent years. When the idea was first suggested, many critics decried the loss of the "campus experience," not to mention the impossibility of learning in such an environment. However, demand for online learning has only increased.
The fact that so many online schools have sprung up, as well as the fact that nearly every traditional school now has an online component speaks to the appeal of online programs. But before students decide whether they should take the online route, they should carefully examine both the advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages of studying at an online college are largely those of convenience. Most programs are "asynchronous," meaning students may submit work whenever they like, within a certain time frame. Online learning also means that students save a great deal of time, money, and energy that they would have expended attending a class in person.
This includes the costs of either commuting to school or having to move to an area to attend a college. Online learners simply do not have to alter their lives as drastically as they would if they attended on campus classes. Plus there is no underestimating the comfort of being able to work in one's pajamas.
Lastly, although it used to have a negative stigma attached to it, online schools have, in recent years, seen their reputations vastly improve so that online learning has gradually grown more socially and academically acceptable.
The disadvantages of studying at an online college are mostly those of depth. The limits of cyberspace mean that students simply don't receive that all-important "face-to-face" interaction with the other students and professors that they would enjoy if they had opted to study in a traditional, "on-campus" program.
Learners absorb a great deal of information about one another through personal interaction, being able to see and hear one another's immediate reactions. This is true not only for students trying to get to know one another, but also for professors who are trying to get to know their students. Online, student-to-student and teacher-to-student interaction is often reduced to emails, emoticons, and photographs.
The result is an undeniable lessening of collective energy and connection. The slow response time to comments and questions means that back-and-forth "dialogue" is compromised. A final disadvantage is that online students often have to pay nearly the same amount in tuition as on-campus students, yet are unable to utilize such resources as the library or athletic center. Many find this unfair.
In sum, students need to evaluate their academic needs before committing to an Online College. Students who are financially unable to move to the physical campus; who live in foreign countries or small towns; or who have familial obligations may indeed find that online college is the best option for them.
However, if students can do so, there is no substitute for an on-campus experience. Students simply must examine the advantages and disadvantages and decide what is the best choice for them, based on their financial, social, familial, and geographic limits.