“Online courses are incredibly convenient,” says Jon Lenrow, associate dean of academic operations at Peirce College. “Students don’t need to worry about travel or parking — or even about attending class at a particular time.”

With most materials available 24/7, online learning is ideal for people with crazy schedules or those at a distance, like military personnel on deployment, Lenrow says.

Another group that benefits from online classes are people who are shy about participating in fast-moving discussions in a traditional classroom. Online discussions, consisting of postings on a message board, give those people time to think through their responses.

Not everyone is cut out to be an online student, though. “You have to be organized,” Lenrow emphasizes. “It’s easy to pro- crastinate when you don’t have a specific time when you have to be at class.”

Aren’t there some subjects that just won’t work online? Lenrow isn’t convinced. “With proper support and a little creativity, there's not much that can't be done,” he says. “Last spring, we even had an online version of a public speaking course.”

Students needed webcams for delivering their speeches, but that’s only one element of the coursework. They also need to develop material and write their speeches — and all that work happened with typical online methods.


How it works

Online courses take place entirely — or almost entirely — through the Internet. The assigned reading is usually a mix of traditional textbooks, links to online material and specially written PowerPoint presentations. “Classroom” discussion takes place by way of message board, primarily with posts from students, though good instructors will suggest topics and keep the discussion on track. Tests are taken open-book online or in a campus testing center.