What is Online Education?

Online education is quickly becoming a preferred method of study for many students. It offers flexibility in scheduling that classroom instruction simply cannot provide. It is ideal for those who work full time and seek to further their careers through continuing education. Online education is often cheaper than brick and mortar educational institutions, providing a good solution for those on tight budgets. It also provides a means for those in remote areas to access education that would be otherwise unattainable.

While online education is geared towards the adult learner, some courses are also available for home-schooled children and regular high school classes. In general, online courses are recommended for part time students. It is hard to imagine an 18 year-old student fresh out of high school having the discipline needed to set their own study schedule. Today, online education serves the continuing education market best. However, as technology develops, it may turn out to be a good option for teens as well. Some college students report that taking some of their classes online has made the remainder of course work easier to address.

Choosing a Good Online School


When considering online courses, it is vital to investigate the school and its reputation. Many online education sites are simply businesses looking to make money with only a secondary focus on the quality of education provided. The best online schools are extensions of long-standing brick and mortar institutions. Because these schools are subject to the same regulations and traditional schools, they can be investigated through Institution Accreditation Search where you can verify a school’s accreditation. It is also important to find out how long a school has been offering online education. Choose one that has been doing this for a number of years.

It is also important to check out third party reviews of a school before you sign up. This can be done by searching forums and other websites. If your intuition tells you something is amiss at any point, steer clear of that school. You are investing in your future when you choose a school so you should approach it just as you would any other major life decision.

PC Skills

Going to school online only requires that you can type and use an internet browser. It is best to have a high-speed internet connection through DSL or cable. Programs are geared to be user friendly so that anyone can interact easily. It is preferable to use a newer computer, with at least 4 GB of RAM if you are running Vista as an operating system. XP users can get by with 1 or 2 GB. A net book is also a good option for online courses, available for about $300. The downside is that these computers offer very small viewing screens.

Signing Up

Online classes will be provided through the school you choose. You must register for classes, often paying with a credit card. You will be assigned a student ID and will set your own password. You will be provided with a link to where you can attend class or secure course materials.

Learning may take place as a group or individually. Some classes present course material and due dates for assignments. It is up to the student to set a schedule of study and turn in assignments on time. Other classes are scheduled and all participants log on at the same time, interacting in chat rooms.

You may want to consider the field of study you are entering before considering online degrees. While technology education takes place frequently online with few complaints, some more complex subjects, like finance, are not as satisfying to students in an online setting. Consider Statistics, a course that baffles many young accounting students. The concepts in this course of study are so complex that many students would benefit more from a classroom setting.

Downsides of Online Education

Problems also exist within online education. Government grants and scholarships are geared towards traditional education sources, so the same funds are not available to those who seek to earn a degree online. These students also miss out on the part of college than many consider most important, which is academic life. The interpersonal communications with others from various backgrounds offers great personal enrichment to college students. While they may interact with other students online, the level of interaction is impeded by the limits of the technology. Some things can only be done face to face. Online education also secludes the student, who spends time alone in a room attending classes and loses out on important social interactions.

Many concerns arise out of the ease with which students may cheat when taking courses online. Some employers will not even accept online degrees, even from accredited universities. In fact, there is a bill pending in Congress, the Higher Education Act, with a provision requiring that distance education programs institute the use of cameras to monitor students. Aimed at reducing instances of cheating, the goal of the cameras is to ensure the person who signed up for the course is actually the student performing the class work.

While this may be an intrusion into privacy, it may actually turn out to be a boon for students. No longer will they be required to travel to proctor locations to take a test. The camera will verify the student is present and actually taking the test required. Some colleges are already trying fingerprint technology and keystroke recorders for this purpose.

Online courses require that you maintain a high level of independence. This can allow you to work at your own pace, but it may also make it harder to secure answers to questions from course instructors. You must wait for instructors to receive and respond to your emails. If you prefer more interaction in learning, a traditional setting may be better.  In addition, some professors surveyed said that they believed their online students were not securing the same level of education that in-class students enjoyed.

If you are uncertain if online learning is best for you, it is best to enroll in a brick and mortar institution and take  a pportion of your course work online. This will offer the optimal balance of social interaction and the convenience of online learning.