Online learning is now more popular than ever. Part of it has to do with the recent events, but online education was already building momentum before the pandemic. Online programs have greatly improved over the years and prestigious organizations have now jumped on board. This has done a lot to legitimize online learning and pushed more to consider the option.
It takes a certain type of individual to succeed in these programs, however, and while you might be attracted by the convenience online learning offers, you have to know if you’re the right fit for it. Let’s take a look at a few questions you may need to ask yourself before you embark on the online education path.
What Are Your Goals?
People can have very different motivations for taking an online program. Some may want to go to a very specific school or program but have limited options where they are. Others may be professionals who want to up their credentials while maintaining their current positions. Then you have people who never had the chance to go to college but now believe that the time is right.
Taking a hard look at your goals will help assess how motivated you are and if now is actually the right time to jump in. It’s also very important that you write your goals down so they can serve as a physical reminder. Goals also become more real when you write them down.
How Good of a Self-Starter Are You?
When you take online classes, you take a lot of the structure of traditional classes away. While this comes with certain pros, it might become a challenge for people who may not be the most disciplined.
If you have any doubt about your ability to handle school responsibilities on your own or have a history of procrastinating, then online learning could be very tough for you, especially if you decide to opt for asynchronous classes.
Asynchronous classes allow students to watch lectures on their own time. Asynchronous learning can be great for people with unusual schedules, but you have to be supremely organized and motivated to survive in these programs. It can become easy to lose track when you get to watch material when you want, and many students end up having to cram classes in at the last minute so they can be ready for assignments. After a while, many of these students burn out or fail.
If you think you need that push in the back to get work done, you might think twice about online classes. And, if you still decide to go for them, choose synchronous classes and try to build a support group around you. You can form a group with other students from your program or people close to you. Let them know of your schedule so they can remind you when needed and hold you accountable if you’re falling behind.
Another thing you could do is give online classes a test run before you make a final decision. You could take one class that is related to your desired field and see how well you handle things. This should give you a good idea of whether you can handle a full program or not.
Do You Know What a Good Program Looks Like?
You also shouldn’t assume that all online classes are the same. There might be major differences in how the classes are dispensed, the quality of the teaching staff, the tools that will be available to you, etc. One of the major differences people are often surprised by is the amount of access they will have to the teaching staff. Some students will assume that they’ll be able to access their teachers easily after their classes, but that’s not always the case. You need to go with a school that prioritizes contact and interactions between the teaching staff and the students.
Schools like Saint Bonaventure University are perfect examples. They are one of the few schools in the country that will allow you to have easy access to a dedicated course manager with whom you can engage in one-on-one conversations whenever you have issues. They also allow you to contact faculty via telephone, email, and video throughout your courses.
In addition to great communication, you have to go with a school that is accredited. The most important type of accreditation you need to look for is regional accreditation. Some examples of regional accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education include the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
You might also have to look for program-specific accreditation depending on the course. Business programs, for instance, should be accredited by the AACSB in addition to having regional accreditation. Nursing programs need to be accredited by either the AACN or the CCNE.
Last, but not least, you need to look at how well the school and its program are ranked. This is what will ultimately dictate how your program will be valued in the marketplace.
Do You Need Social Interaction to Thrive?
You also have to assess if you’re ready to work alone versus being in a class with other classmates. Some people crave direct social interaction or want to go for a program mainly for the networking opportunities it offers. While these can be somewhat recreated with online programs, they will never truly feel the same.
This is why you need to speak with enrollment advisors and ask about what type of communication tools you’ll be using and the level of interaction with other students you can expect. Also, ask if they host on-campus networking events or if they have a dedicated message board for students only. These are all things that could bring a sense of community back into online classes.
Online learning can be a great opportunity for people with a tight schedule to get the credentials they need or for people who can’t go to traditional classes for some reason. They are not the best for everyone, however, so ask yourself these questions and be as honest as you can with your answers.