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Is Taking an Online Class Right for You?

You have made the choice to go to college. Now, you must decide what type of learning environment is best for you. One of the biggest choices, you’ll make is whether you will attend traditional on-campus classes, or if online classes better suit your needs. I have attended classes offered in each format.

I completed my undergraduate degree on-campus, completed two master’s leveled programs (MA and MBA) online, and now, I am in pursuit of my Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) within a hybrid learning format. I chose to complete my undergraduate degree on-campus right after high school. I wanted to experience the whole “living away from home” aspect of attending college. Also, at that time online learning was not an option (early 2000’s). The on-campus classes were like my high school classes, but there was more personal responsibility involved (making sure I got myself up on time to attend class, completing readings, and planning my time to finish my assignments).

Jump forward to 2013, when I decided to go back to school, again, I sustained a work-related injury, which impacted by motor skills. Treatment would last over three years, and it was clear an online learning environment was the best option for me.

Online learning fit my schedule (doctors’ appointments, surgery, and physical therapy), it gave me something to work toward each day, as the recovery processes were highly drawn out. I found my learning process had to be altered to meet my current circumstances. During this time frame, I discovered loved learning. Now, I am working on my doctorate degree in a hybrid program. I will be on campus for one week every year throughout the process (three-year process). Going to campus has allowed me to build a support network of peers and professors. Having a group of people I travel with on this often-solitary journey has kept me in the program.

The traditional on-campus opportunity for furthering one’s education can be very similar to the high school classroom experience. You are expected to do reading assignments, homework, and show up for class. The classroom experience can vary from the standard lecture to more of a discussion format, dependent on the material and professor. Some of the necessary personal attributes include the following: time management, reading and writing skills, and general organization of materials (readings, schedules, etc.). Many professors help students develop these attributes, by reminding them of upcoming due dates, discussing the reading assignments, or even setting pre-determined benchmarks for assignment completion. This approach to learning is more supervised than the online process is. The student is still responsible for the necessary factors (attendance, readings, and written submissions), but the professor guides the student through the process with their lectures.

Online classes are a bit different from the traditional on-campus process. Online classes are all done from home, or wherever you have internet, via your computer. There are few lectures if any (some of my online classes had no lectures whatsoever), and most of the learning is done by reading your textbooks and writing papers.

Some of the necessary personal attributes for this learning environment are as follows: time management, organization, attention to detail, research abilities, reading, and writing skills. These personal attributes are more important in the online learning environment because you are in charge of the process (from when you do your reading and assignments, to if you have interaction with your professor and fellow-students). You are not constantly reminded of various assignment due dates by your professor (often you are given a syllabus, and you are personally responsible to meet the deadlines), you cannot depend on the lecture to get your through the test (because the test may touch on parts of the reading not covered in the lecture), basically, you are in the driver’s seat. You may never speak with your professor, but a key to online success is to make yourself known to the professor via your assignments and personal (appropriate) emails.

Mixed format learning or hybrid-classes combine traditional and online learning experiences. Often you will complete most work online with periodic on-campus intensives (at least that is how my program is formatted). This mixed format allows learners to work independently, while also building a network of fellow-students through face-to-face activities. The personal attributes required for this learning process are a mix of the two individual styles listed above.

Each school presents learning opportunities in a slightly different way. So, when deciding if a certain learning program is right for you, make sure you truly understand the requirements of the program. It is also helpful to determine what type of learner you are. Are you self-directed and highly motivated, or do you need a bit of a nudge to get going?