Friday, April 12, 2013

Is Online Learning For You?

"Computer on Desk" by Dnlkolos CC by 2.0
Being an online student has its advantages and disadvantages. Being able to attend college at any time, any place, and without having to worry about a dress code (or decency laws) are the most commonly known advantages to attending college online. However, there are times when I feel the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

 24/7 Motivation and Accountability

One of the biggest challenges in attending college online is staying motivated and committed to your academic goals. Why? Because the motivation to succeed has to come from within you, and because your classmates and your professors will not be able to directly hold you accountable for your mistakes.

As an online student you will enjoy some anonymity because you don't see your professor or your peers and they don't see you. You don't have to pretend to listen intently to a lecture that is being given, you aren't going to be called on in class to answer a question, and you aren't going to have to meet with your professor in her/his office to discuss why your test scores are slipping or why you didn't turn in an assignment. Nobody's going to know or care if you decide not to read the assigned chapters for the week because you are playing your favorite MMO, or hanging out and watching "the big game" with your friends. In theory, it's a sweet deal... Until you forget to turn in a course project, fail a midterm or final exam, and lose what financial aid you are receiving because your grades slipped.

Life happens: you get sick, you become tired, your significant other gets the day off from work, people come by to visit, the textbooks are boring, and you have a million things to do around the house. The list of reasons why you can't study are going to be endless, and you aren't going to have the peer pressure or fear of humiliation to motivate you. You have to motivate yourself, and you have to hold yourself accountable for your mistakes because your peers and your professors won't be able to.


During my time in college, I've met a lot of people who attend school online for different reasons. Some of my classmates attend college online because they are employed and online courses can be accessed virtually anytime day or night. Several of my classmates attend classes online because they have young children and want to stay at home and care for them. Some, like me, are living in one-car households that are 30 or more miles away from a college or university campus.

"alone" by psyberartist CC By 2.0
For those people who are employed or live in households with more than one vehicle, social interaction isn't a problem; however, for those students who spend most of their time at home, attending courses online can leave us feeling socially isolated and have a negative effect on our ability to communicate face-to-face with people.

Getting Noticed

Remember how I mentioned that online students had some anonymity? It's worth mentioning again, because here's another downside to being a faceless student: you may not get noticed. For some students, this isn't a bad thing; however, if you are planning on using scholarships to fund your education, you will eventually need a recommendation from a professor. If your professor doesn't notice you, you may not be able to get the glowing recommendation that you need to land a scholarship in a very competitive scholarship market, and getting straight A's may not get you noticed by your professor.

Overcoming the Disadvantages

I am by no means an expert, but I have learned a few things along the way that have helped me to overcome the disadvantages of being an online student:

yellow, red, and green balloons
"Balloon Launch" by Allson H CC By 2.0
Surround yourself with people who will help motivate you and hold you accountable for not achieving your academic goals. These people can be family, friends, co-workers, or mentors.

Know that whatever can happen, will happen, and plan for it... then create a backup plan for your backup plan. Schedule your study time around your significant others' work schedule. Backup your coursework on a program like Google Docs or a flash drive. Find other places with Internet access to study in case your home's Internet connection goes down. Buy a pit bull, name it "Fluffy," and teach her/him to attack anyone who "drops by" for a visit during your study time.

Schedule down time for yourself. Arrange to meet your friends to hang out and watch the game, or play the MMO that you were tempted to play instead of reading the assigned chapters for the week.  Alternatively, play fetch with "Fluffy" or teach her/him a new trick.

Get involved in a church group, book club, yoga class, dog training, or networking group associated with your major that is not online and practice your verbal communication skills. Trust me, you do not want to stutter during a job interview because you are not used to talking to people.

Create a website to display your resume and work samples on. If you aren't sure how to do this, check out Jim Stroud's book, How to Find a Job Now (...And never have to look again), for tips on how to do this. Depending on your online college, you may have a profile or you may have to introduce yourself to your classmates during the first week of a course; include the link to your website on your profile or in your introduction to your professor and classmates. I've done this for two of my courses, and both professors referenced some of the information on my website when they responded to my introduction. 

Questions? Thoughts? Comments?

Did I forget to mention a disadvantage to attending college online? Are you an online student who has some tips for coping? Please let us know in the comments. 


  1. Charity I can totally relate to the motivational factor. Doing my master's online has had it's challenges. It's a lot easier to go golfing on Sunday than to work on that paper and that's where motivation comes usually wins.

    1. Hi Jason,
      When I was working full-time and attending college, I would come home from work, eat, talk to Mike for a bit, study for about 3 or 4 hours, and then go to bed. I didn't have much of a life during the 5-day workweek, but it gave me more time to enjoy the weekend with Mike and my friends. You might want to try something like that so you aren't working on coursework on the weekend when everyone is home, or has the day off.

  2. Hi Charity,
    Great article and great points. The point you make about mobility (limited access to one car) can also make you a world traveler if looking at online colleges or specialized training anywhere in the world.

    Thank you for continuing to inspire.


    1. Hi Ian,
      Thanks for reminding me of that point! I have several classmates who live outside of the U.S., and I've seen participated in a couple of webinars that are hosted outside of the U.S. It's really interesting to see how people in different countries view topics like employee benefits or training; especially some of the solutions that are shared on training or benefits with limited capital or a lack of other resources.

      Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have a great weekend!

  3. There's a book called "How to Read A Book," written by Mortimer J. Adler.
    This book I feel is a must read for anyone; however, I feel even stronger that it is a must read for online or correspondence college students. Why?
    1) School's have not adequately taught the art of reading.
    2) Reading is the primary way to learn and gather information (You cannot rely as heavily on lecture material and a friends help in passing an exam online when compared to on-campus courses.)

    -So another upside and potential downside to college away from campus is this: You have to read well.

    Of course this is in addition to the great information above such as keeping motivated and keeping verbal skills in practice. Thanks Charity.

    1. Hi Brad, I've been taking courses online for so long that I completely forgot to mention that one must be able to learn from reading. I was an avid reader when I first started taking classes, so it wasn't too tough for me to transition from a combination of lecture/reading based learning; however, making this transition can be difficult for some.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!


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