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Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Courses

Student sitting with laptop computer taking online class
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Ten Advantages of Online Courses 

What are the advantages of an online course?

The biggest advantage of an online course is that your classroom and instructor (theoretically) are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your only excuse for missing class is not getting online! Otherwise, everything is available to you. You can get announcements, access notes, review assignments, take practice quizzes, discuss questions, chat with fellow students and study any time you want. Other than certain due dates, you make your own schedule for completing the requirements of the course.
You can study any time you want. You can study with whomever you want. You can study wearing anything you want (or nothing if you prefer!) Online courses give you the flexibility to spend time with work, family, friends, significant others or any other activity you like. You still have to complete the work (and this flexibility can be your downfall; see disadvantages) but for many people, with continually changing work schedules or people who make frequent business trips, parents with small children, students caring for others or whose health prevents them from making it to campus on a regular basis, students whose friends or boyfriend/girlfriend drop in unexpectedly, or for those days when the surf and/or snow is wicked, this method of course delivery can't be beat.
Online students often find that their family, friends and/or boy-girl-friends get involved in the course. Oftentimes, a student will study with that special someone present. Children may take an interest in the online environment. Parents may look over the shoulder of an online student while they are surfing across the web. In short, everyone in the household gets involved in learning. Having the support of your family and friends makes you more likely to succeed.
Because you have a direct pipeline to the instructor via e-mail, you can get your questions answered directly. Many students aren't comfortable asking questions in class for fear of feeling stupid. The Internet (hopefully) eliminates that fear (as long as you feel comfortable with the instructor). Many times you think of a question after class or while you are studying. Rather that trying to remember to ask it or forgetting it, you can send an e-mail to the instructor. Your opportunity to learn is enhanced.
Many of us don't really take the time to get to know our fellow students, especially in large classes. We might be too busy or we're just plain shy. An online course provides an opportunity to get to know other students via bulletin boards, chat rooms and mailing lists. I've had students form study groups online, meeting at a local library or coffee shop. Even if you just converse online, it gives you a type of interaction with other students and other people that just isn't practical in the time-limited on-campus classroom.
When you complete this course, you will be able to include e-mail and web browsing as technical skills on your resume. That gives you a definite advantage over someone who doesn't have these skills. Learning how to get information via the Internet opens up a world of possibilities for your personal and professional life. You can find jobs online, get college applications online, make travel plans online, get dealer costs for cars online, comparison shop online, access great works of art and literature online, meet people from around the world online, follow sports and movies online, and so on. The possibilities are practically endless.
Most of the time, most of what we learn in a course is forgotten within a week or two of the end of classes. Having that spark of interest and knowing how to find information online insures that what your learning is always available to you. If you become interested in a certain topic, perhaps because of something you see, read or hear about, or perhaps because one of your children or friends has a question, you can get online and look it up. You will have developed the skills to find information, digest it, synthesize it and formulate an answer to any question that comes your way.
Although you may think that buying a computer and paying for Internet access is pretty expensive, consider what it would cost you in gas and parking each month if you were driving to campus. Consider the costs of eating out versus eating at home. Consider the costs for child-care, pet care or any other kind of care that you need to provide while you are away from home. Consider the costs of missing work to make classes or not being eligible for a promotion because you can't attend classes to advance your educational level. These are very tangible benefits of having access to education at home.
Perhaps the greatest foe of online courses is procrastination. Most of us, instructors included, put off the things we need to do until the very last moment. When it comes to education, the last moment is the worst possible moment to learn. Sometimes that lesson is learned the hard way in the form of poor performance on an exam or assignment. But ultimately, you succeed because you realize the importance of doing things on time or even ahead of time. That self-realization propels your success in an online course. No one is there looking over your shoulder to tell you to go online and study. No one is there to make you ask questions or post responses. The motivation to study in an online course comes from you. It's something we call student-centered or active learning. The online student takes responsibility for their course of studies and matures into an individual for whom learning and accomplishment are highly valued. In short, your success depends on you!
No technological invention in the history of man has connected the people of the world like the Internet. While there is still a huge disparity between those who have access to the Internet and those who don't, the mere fact that any of us can communicate across the globe speaks to the importance of this medium. Many times the web sites you visit in a course will o be based in another country. What better place to find out about the works of Michelangelo than to go to Italy (virtually, of course)? What better way tn learn about the Amazon rain forest or the history of China or the customs of islanders in the South Pacific than to visit those places online? And if you participate in global learning days or other online events, you may even meet and make friends with someone in another country. It is a small world, after all.

There are probably many more advantages to Internet-based courses, but I think you get the idea. The point is that we live in an ever-changing world that is ripe with new possibility. The ability to learn new information or a new skill whenever you want and wherever you want offers far greater opportunities for education than ever before. The scope and reach of education broadens to far greater horizons that perhaps ever imagined.

Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses

How could there possibly be any disadvantages of online courses? Read on.

Believe it or not, you will spend more time studying and completing assignments in the online environment than you will in an on-campus course. How can that be? The online environment is text-based. To communicate with your instructor and other students, you must type messages, post responses and otherwise communicate using your fingers (i.e., through typing). As you can probably guess, typing is slower than speaking. (Try reading each word as you type it and compare the difference if you had spoken the same thing.) In the same sense, reading your lecture materials can take more time than listening to an instructor deliver them, although spoken lectures have a distinct disadvantage. If you are sitting in a classroom, it's likely that you'll miss a good percentage of what the instructor says, no matter how focused you are. It's human nature to zone out for brief periods of time. When you are reading, you will have a tendency to go back over the notes if you miss something and that takes more time. The point is that you will likely learn more in an online environment, but you will have to make a greater effort to accomplish that learning.
Just as there is a dark side to that controversial property known as the Force, there is a dark side to Internet-based courses. The dark side starts with procrastination. Procrastination is to a student what Darth Maul is to Qui Gon. Procrastination will chop you to bits in an online course. There is no one to tell you to get to class on time. There is no one reminding you that assignments are due or that exams are coming. There is no one to preach to you, beg with you, plead with you to stay on top of your coursework. (Sounds pretty good, huh?) It's easy to put off reading and assignments in the online environment. Before you know it, weeks have gone by, you haven't done any homework and it's exam time. Scary bad. Creepy anxious. Too real.
An Internet-based course demands that you develop personal time-management skills. As with most things, if you don't manage your time properly, you will find yourself buried beneath a seeming insurmountable mountain of coursework. Online courses require the self-discipline to set aside chunks of time to complete your studies. It means you have to make online studying a priority and not let other activities interfere. Sometimes, it means making difficult choices.
In an online course, no one can hear you scream. And that causes discomfort for some online students. Studying alone with only the computer as your companion can be terrifying. There's no whispering in the back of the room, no wise remarks from the peanut gallery, no commanding presence at the front of the classroom pleading for everyone to listen. The online environment is a much different atmosphere that takes some getting used to. Hopefully, your online instructor is sensitive to this problem and can help you overcome those feelings. In any case, you should be aware of them and seek help if they start to impede your studies. A quick e-mail to a classmate, your instructor or a counselor can help you feel better connected if the sense of community you seek is missing.
In my opinion, it's a much better situation for the student. By the time a student enters a community college, they want to be independent. They don't want someone telling them what to do all the time. They want their freedom. (At least, that's how I was when I went to college.)
It's a sink or swim proposition and you can't have it both ways. If you desire to become a responsible, self-sufficient, independently minded citizen of this planet, then now's the time to start. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Get busy with it.
I also think it's an advantage for the instructor. I don't have to become the all-powerful Oz and threaten you with dire consequences if you don't do your work. I don't have to control you, manipulate you, scold you, act like a parent or babysitter to you. I can treat you like an adult with the respect that you deserve.
This freedom can be dangerous if you don't learn how to handle it.
Personally, I think it is far better to let students find their own way. Instructors can be beacons, lighthouses of knowledge, so to speak, but we can't steer the ship. Hopefully, everyone makes it safely to harbor. Occasionally, someone shipwrecks. But in all cases, everyone learns, and I think that is important.

Only you are responsible for your learning. I can't force it on you. I can't make you study. I can share a little knowledge and experience, show you a few tools and hope you get it. The spark and desire to pursue your dreams must be yours.

So, in a philosophical sort of way, the real disadvantage to an Internet-based course is that you might not own up to it. You might not take responsibility for your studies and your goals. You might get way behind and never catch up. 

Above used with permission from Sean Chamberlin, Fullerton College