Online learning is growing in popularity with more and more students opting to enroll in virtual programs rather than traditional classrooms. With so many options available it can be difficult to know where to get started. Here are somethings to consider when evaluating if online learning is the right decision for you.
What kind of program are you looking at? When looking at programs, online or traditional classroom education, the best way to determine if the program is reputable is to find out if the institution is accredited. Accreditation means that the institution meets a set of academic standards that assure you that you are receiving a quality education. These standards are set and evaluated by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) and because these schools are being evaluated by a third party you know they are not biased. Accreditation status is evaluated and evaluated between 3-8 years so you know that standards are continuing to be met. It’s especially important for those seeking an online education to find an accredited institution because there are some online programs that are not meeting top standards and they give online education as a whole a bad reputation. The fact is that, so long as the institution is accredited, the quality of education received online versus in class makes no difference. So do your research when picking an online program.
What is your current lifestyle like? Online learning has the very obvious perk of allowing for a flexible schedule. With no commute, the ability to study from home, and to create your own schedule, it’s no wonder why so many students are opting for online education. But for you to be successful with it you need to seriously examine your lifestyle. How much time can you dedicate to your studies and are you disciplined enough to get the work done from home? People often underestimate how tempting home distractions can be when it comes to doing coursework online. The best way to really commit to make sure you have a designated workspace. Even if it is your kitchen counter or dining room table. Have a space that you know is your study space when you’re working. Also, create a schedule and stick to it. For example, put in 2 hours of studying every Tuesday at 8pm. Or whatever works best for you, but be consistent that way it forms a habit.
What kind of resources are available to you? There are some tools you need to make sure you are successful with online learning. The obvious one is a computer and, of course, an internet connection. If possible, make sure you have a reliable computer and internet connection to minimize any technological difficulties. Other resources you might find useful would be a printer, smartphone, web camera (some classes utilize skype or other chat channels), and any necessary software. Think Microsoft Word or Excel. Each course will let you know what software is required for classes. Also, be sure to check out the institution’s technology resources. Most schools have a technology department that supports students with their technology needs. Find out what kind of support you can get from your school.
What kind of support system do you have? Having supportive people in your life is important when considering any education. But online education requires a different kind of support system. Making sure your friends and family understand that you’re enrolled in a program and that they need to respect your time. Oftentimes our friends and family might not realize they are imposing on valuable class time because they don’t see you in class–make sure they know your schedule. Also, for parents who are are looking to enroll in online education, be sure to have some kind of childcare available so that your kids are not a distraction to your studies. If you’re kids are old enough to understand mom or dad is in school, consider a shared study time where the kids can work on homework with you. It’s important for kids to see their parents working towards a goal and investing time into their education.
Ultimately, the decision to go with online education is up to you. But it is important to know what you can expect when considering online education. So do your research and seriously consider how committed you are to online learning. The fact of the matter is that attaining a higher level of education is life changing. It can open doors and job opportunities. It can change the way you think and what you believe. Be brave, be real with yourself, and know that your online education is valuable.