It’s no surprise that online college courses are quickly gaining popularity. Between hectic schedules, multiple jobs and family responsibilities, classes that offer some flexibility are in high demand.
But are they the right route for your collegiate goals? It’s important to first consider what it takes to succeed at online learning.
Having self-discipline, staying motivated and being extremely organized are key, according to Clara Piloto, director of global programs at MIT Professional Education. A decent grasp of technology is also a bonus. Ralph Rogers, the executive vice president of academic affairs at Nova Southeastern University, agrees. “Maintaining a regular schedule to work on your studies is crucial and takes discipline,” he says.
We asked Rogers what students thinking about online education should consider before singing up.
Look at your other commitments: Personal situations can strain a student’s ability to commit to coursework. For those with responsibilities outside of school, online courses are often a great alternative. “Full-time workers or students with child care responsibilities are typical of those who benefit from studying at times convenient to them,” explains Rogers. “[Online courses are] especially helpful if you travel a lot for work, have a family, disability or are in the armed forces,” adds Piloto.
You won’t be alone: Piloto adds that educators are aware of this social itch and are working to add more of a social aspect to online learning as a way to engage students. “Technology, pedagogy and better understanding of learning styles are leading to a more personalized approach to education,” says Rogers. With the right balance of technology, social interactions and discipline, online learning may be just the ticket for the right student.
How do you learn best? Acknowledging that you’re not quite cut out for online classes is important. “Learning is basically a social activity,” says Piloto. “Many learners get energized by being in class — interacting physically with other learners by touching, holding and doing.” If this learning style works best for you, online courses may not be the smartest move.