Are online classes hard? Answering the FAQs about online learning
Today’s typical college attendee looks a little different compared to the average student from several decades ago. Not every student immediately goes the higher education route after finishing high school. Others might try this route and end up taking a detour for one reason or another.
Committing to a traditional degree program can be unrealistic for many busy adults. Work commitments, parenting priorities and a lack of transportation can be major roadblocks to enrolling in college. But the number of college students 25 and older has risen steadily since the 1970s, and that may be because the higher education landscape is evolving to meet the needs of the nontraditional student.
The days of a brick-and-mortar education being the only option for college hopefuls are long gone. In fact, the number of college students enrolled in at least one online class climbed from 1.6 million in 2002 to more than 3.3 million in 2016.
But if you don’t have much experience with online learning, committing to a web-based curriculum can be intimidating, and you probably have some questions. For starters, are online classes hard? To address some of the concerns you might have, we spoke with a panel of online learning experts and graduates. Here are their answers to some of your most pressing questions.
5 commonly asked questions about online courses
1. Are online classes harder than on-campus classes?
While the material covered in online courses is typically the same as that covered in on-campus courses, if you’re somewhat of a novice when it comes to online learning, it can be difficult to know if you’d thrive in this kind of learning environment. The truth is it depends a little on where your strengths lie.
“Online classes may be more challenging for those with poor time management or lack of motivation,” explains Chris Lee, adjunct professor and founder of Purpose Redeemed. “Many students, however, report online classes as being easier than, or only as difficult as, in-person classes.”
Lee, who’s taught online courses in the past, maintains that class formats will often depend on the instructor and the institution. Some online program models, for example, are self-paced. This allows students to progress through the coursework according to the timeline that best fits their own needs and strengths.
But without strict due dates for each assignment, students bear more responsibility. Some find it’s helpful to focus on steps as opposed to an entire program. “If you look at your degree program as a whole, it can be very daunting,” says Michael Brantley, who graduated from Brandman University’s fully online Bachelor in Business Administration program. “Taking each class at a time makes it manageable.”
2. Will I learn as much in an online course?
It’s easy to assume that the lack of face-to-face instruction can hinder online students’ overall learning outcomes. If you’re worried you may not absorb as much in an online program, consider this U.S. Department of Education report that examined more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning.
It found: “on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” Students participating in blended learning models that combine elements of online and face-to-face instruction ultimately outperformed all others.
What drives these results? Many contend that when technology is integrated into learning models, students are more likely to remain interested in the content, stay focused on their assignments and retain the information.
3. Is it difficult to balance online learning with a busy life?
Going back to school as an adult, your priorities may be different than they were when you were fresh out of high school. Whether you’ll need to balance full-time work and family time alongside your studies or you’re simply unwilling to sacrifice your social life, your plate is bound to be pretty full. But online learning could be the solution you’ve been seeking if you find a program that offers the right amount of flexibility.
“Online and self-paced programs help parents and those with irregular work hours by providing additional flexibility to classroom programs,” explains Elizabeth Malson, president of online technical school Amslee Institute.
Online programs are also accommodating to various learning styles. Malson says this format typically allows students to control their experience.
“For those who like to get ahead, they can often move forward in their program and complete requirements early,” she explains. “For students who need a deadline, they can wait until they gain the right amount of motivation to work on the program requirements.”
4. Will I be able to interact with other online students?
The convenience of learning online is hard to beat. But if you’re someone who enjoys in-class discussion, you may be hesitant about the virtual connections in an online environment. Take inspiration from Alexandrea Kramm, who earned her M.A. in Teaching from Brandman University’s online program. Even though her learning experience was in a virtual classroom, Kramm was met with a warm and engaged community.
“[For] two years, my life revolved around discussion boards, journals and projects. As stressful as it has been at times, I feel I have become connected to the people in my online classes, as we share experiences and new ideas,” Kramm told her graduating class in her commencement speech. “Allowing us to speak to our peers and hear their opinions helped shape how I teach every day.”
Kramm added that no matter the questions she had during her time at Brandman University, she had access to knowledgeable counselors, professors and tech staff who supported her along the way.
5. Will I get the support I need in an online environment?
Alessia Contino met her husband when his military assignment stationed him in Sicily, where she was born and raised. After a frustrating experience with a different school, her husband suggested Brandman University. As soon as she placed her very first phone call, Contino was met with unmatched support—something that surprised her as an international online student. She took courses while living in Europe, the Middle East and America during her four years as a student at Brandman University.
“Studying is not easy, and we all encounter many obstacles on the way that make us think about quitting or postponing because it just seems impossible to achieve our goals most of the time,” she told her graduating class, noting struggles with time zones and relocating. “Today I am a mother, a military spouse, a foreigner and I am also a student who succeeded.”
Is online learning right for you?
As you continue to weigh going back to school, you might start to think more seriously about online classes. They can provide flexibility you need without sacrificing the quality of your learning. Researching the intricacies of different programs is a great first step. As you do that, it’s important to note that not all online programs are the same.
Brandman University was created with adult students like you in mind. The flexible format and student-centered care model ensure that all online students will receive the support they need. To learn more about the online options that could await, visit Brandman University’s Online Degree Programs page.
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