Is online education right for you? 5 questions about virtual learning answered

Is online education right for you? 5 questions about virtual learning answered

By Vanessa Dennen
Florida State University

1. Is online education as easy and convenient as it seems?

Online learning may give students a choice about when and where to study, but this flexibility should not be confused with being easy or fast. Learning is a process and it takes time. By studying online, you might be able to eliminate commute time and the dreaded hunt for parking on campus, but you still have to put in the time and effort to learn.

2. Aren’t there drawbacks to reading online versus physical books?

Research has shown that reading on paper is marginally better than online reading in terms of understanding what you read and metacognition — that is, awareness of one’s own thoughts. However, it would be wrong to assume that online courses involve only reading on screens. Traditional colleges and universities regularly assign online readings. Conversely, online instructors assign physical books. When books come in both paper and digital versions, students can choose which format they want to purchase, rent or borrow. If readings are offered digitally, students can opt to print them out. In the end, this tends to be a matter of preference.

3. Why does online education sometimes cost more than regular classes?

When additional fees apply to an online course, it usually reflects an actual expense associated with running the degree program. When traditional brick-and-mortar universities first began offering online degree programs, they found that it wasn’t as simple as just hiring more instructors. Courses needed to be converted to online formats, and instructional designers were often hired to assist with course development. Existing faculty needed training to prepare to teach online. In some institutions, additional teaching assistants were hired to ensure students had ample human contact. Student services, such as library access and advising, also need to be provided for online learners. All of these activities have costs associated with them that were not part of the institution’s historical operating budget.

4. A new study found if your prospective employer learns you got an online degree you’re less likely to get a callback. Should students be worried?

Bias against online degrees is a concern, but I think it will continue to diminish over time as more individuals with online degrees enter the job market and as hiring managers increasingly have their own experiences with online learning.

5. Will students get the same quality learning online as they would on campus?

The National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancement maintains a compilation of studies comparing student outcomes across different types of courses. The majority of comparison studies — at least in this database — show that there are no significant differences between online and face-to-face courses. In other words, learning occurs equally well no matter how a course is delivered so long as the course itself is designed well.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This article originally appeared at The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: