More and more people and educational institutions are turning to online courses as a method of learning. In fact, the e-learning industry reached an astounding $165 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow 5% by 2023. As of 2013, 70% of universities offered online courses. Online learning and the availability of online courses are removing financial and physical barriers to education. Colleges and universities are beginning to shift their focus from course content to other aspects of learning that students can get when they pay for and attend a university onsite. This is due to the fact that online courses can be offered in such a cost-effective manner that universities can focus on other areas of the student experience.
But is taking online courses better than attending university or college in-person? After all, online learning has not always been given the respect it deserves. The degrees obtained through online courses have not always been considered “real” degrees. However, perceptions are changing and the traditional education system is shifting toward the inclusion of an online approach. And it’s a good thing because online learning offers a number of benefits.
Benefits of Online Learning
There are many benefits to taking online courses. These benefits are the reason so many people are turning to online learning as a means to get their education or update their knowledge and skills. The following are some of the top benefits of online learning:
Less expensive: Online courses and programs often have a lower cost associated with them simply because there is less overhead involved. Universities and colleges that offer online courses do not have to hire a professor or teacher for as many hours or use/pay for the space to hold the classes. The course is a product, more than it is a service, and this means it can easily be sold en mass at a cheaper price.
Flexibility: Online courses provide the flexibility to learn whenever you want, wherever you want. In this age of increased responsibility, this is ideal for students who are juggling family responsibilities, jobs, and other types of responsibilities. This is incredibly relevant in an age in which freelance and telecommuting is becoming more prevalent as the new generation of workers want to have the flexibility of working where they want, when they want. This flexibility also allows people to work at their courses at the time of day that best suits them, which is great for all the night owls and morning people out there.
Self-paced learning: People who take online courses can set the pace of their learning. They can take their time on subject matter they don’t understand and can cruise through what they do understand. It also means that they can reach course targets at their own pace, rather than having to be prepared to turn in assignments or write an exam on a certain date.
Comfort of home: Online courses can be taken from the comfort of home—or from anywhere else you want to take them. They can be done while traveling, sitting in a coffee shop, or visiting family. They can be done while in your PJs. There is no need to spend money on travel or parking or on food when you need to grab lunch or dinner.
Life-long learning: We now live in a world in which people need to upgrade and add to their skillset on an ongoing basis. This helps them remain competitive when in the workplace and online courses help make the ability to upgrade a reality.
Disadvantages to Online Learning
Of course, nothing is perfect and there are disadvantages to online learning of which anyone considering this method of education should be aware. As you read through the disadvantages, keep in mind that most people feel they are worth it when compared to the benefits. These disadvantages include the following:
Quality: When taking an online course or program, it is important to ensure it is high-quality and accredited. It is easy for courses to be placed online that don’t offer any legitimacy in terms of a recognized degree, diploma, or certification. When choosing online courses, you need to do your due diligence to ensure the course or program in which you enrol is of high quality.
Limited in-person interaction: Many people learn well independently and all on their own without the distraction of others around them, but others do not learn well in this type of environment. For this reason, those who sign up for online courses have to be sure this style of learning suits them and that they can be successful.
The need for self-discipline and self-direction: When taking online courses, especially when they offer a learn-at-your-own-pace environment, you will need a lot of self-discipline. Without having to show up for scheduled classes or having an instructor asking for assignments, the onus is on the student to ensure everything gets done. You will also not have the option of using a student advisor in many cases, which means you will need to handle your educational path on your own.
More work: Since there are no classroom lectures to attend, all learning is done online via reading and research, which can increase the amount of work that needs to be done. However, the flexibility that comes with this freedom from the classroom is often worth the sacrifice.
Online Course Options
There are a number of options when you want to take online courses. Universities and colleges are offering a lot of online courses for students who cannot or choose not to attend traditional classes. These online courses are generally offered via a learning management system (LMS). Popular LMSs include Moodle, Sakai, Brightspace, Acatar, and Blackboard.
Aside from this, there are many online learning platforms that offer a multitude of courses, some of which are not associated with a university or college and some of which are designed by professors from major universities. These are accessible to everyone who has a computer and an Internet connection and include the following:
Udemy boasts being the largest online course selection site in the world. Subject matter experts are able to combine YouTube videos, PDFs, and PowerPoint slides into comprehensive courses that students can purchase. All courses can be published in the Udemy marketplace for free and Udemy takes a cut of the course registration fee. Students can access a range of courses at reasonable prices and easily supplement their skillset.
Khan Academy is a non-profit online learning platform that is free for anyone who wants to take courses online. Khan has the belief that education should be free for anyone, anywhere. The site was founded by Salman Khan and he has made every one of the 2,400 videos on the site. He is not an educated professional, but he is knowledgeable and dedicated and helps supplement the knowledge of students young and old. Khan Academy also has a lot of supporters, including the Bill Gates Foundation.
Coursera is known as a delivery platform for Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). It offers online courses from top universities, including the likes of Yale, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins. Obviously, this is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Khan Academy because the instructors offering the courses are experts in their field. Plus, those taking online courses via Coursera are most often looking for certification in the courses they take. Courses are available for free and for grading and certification, they are still priced reasonably, from around $29-$99.
Another platform that offers MOOCs is edX. It also offers courses from the top universities and it offers them without certification for free. Certification is given for the completion of courses for a reasonable fee. This really makes education accessible for everyone.
It is clear that online courses are a great way to supplement your education, gain new knowledge, and expand your skillset for use in your career and beyond. The only question is, with so many options, which online courses will you take?