How do I know if I am going to like or if online education is right for me?
I can’t count all the times over the past ten years I have been asked this very question by military-related students seeking information about going back to school and the degree program they should pursue. During these discussions, invariably the discussion turns to online versus a more traditional face-to-face (F2F) learning experience and which one is best for them. It is a very important question and one that every military-related student should have answered before starting their studies in an online program.
However, getting this question answered may be challenging, particularly when speaking to an admissions or enrollment advisor who is focused getting you into an online program.
If you are new to college, or it has been some time since you were in school; what can you do to make sure an online program is right for you?
Here are a few things to consider.
Do you have adequate time to complete your required coursework?
- Depending on the school, the degree program, and their experience with online learning, the majority of online programs are offered as asynchronous, meaning you can participate on your time when and wherever you can connect to the Internet. This may sound like a home run; study when and where I want! For many, it is. However, for others this could prove to be a major challenge. One of the major challenges facing adult-learners, in particular, military-related students is the availability of time and time management. Yes, online education may provide a level of convenience and flexibility.
If you have great organizational skills and have a fairly structured work schedule, then an online program might be for you. If however, your work schedule fluctuates, you have several competing factors on your time, or you simply are told to pack your bags you’re going to school, then you may find yourself struggling to find the time to do your coursework.
Do you have the right technology to be successful in an online program?
- Let’s face it, having the right technology is an essential part of succeeding in any online program. Many schools will tell you what their minimum technology requirements are in order to access and participate in their courses. This may include the best web browser to use, the minimum capabilities of your computer, and in some cases, your level of experience with some software programs like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.
- A number of online programs will promote the fact that their programs can be access from mobile devices like smartphones and iPads, or tablet-readers. To some degree this is true. Depending on the learning management system the school is using to deliver their online programs, accessing certain elements of online courses can be achieved with a mobile device. However, they have their limitations and therefore a computer or laptop is your best option for success in online programs.
Do you have your own computer or laptop, or is being able to get to the local library and use their computers good enough?
- Having both taught and having been a student of online programs, I recommend having your own computer or laptop. Having your own computer or laptop means you can truly participate in your online courses or do research on your own time. Libraries have hours of operation and other customers seeking to use their computer resources, all of which can limit the time available to you. If you don’t have your own computer or laptop and you are eligible for Title IV Federal Financial Aid, you may be able to fund the purchase of one through Federal Financial Aid. You will want to discuss this option with your school’s financial aid department.
Does the school offer a free first course or an orientation course for new online students to test-drive before committing to the program?
- Many colleges offering online programs will, as a minimum, have some form of an orientation course new online students must take. In some cases, this course must be taken and passed before the student is actually considered an enrolled student. This may sound restrictive, but it allows the school to assess the student and allows the student to see if online learning is right for them.
- A new trend in the online college environment is for schools to offer a first course free. In many cases this will be a form of a curriculum required introductory course or orientation course. When researching schools to attend, this is one question I recommend asking the enrollment or admissions person you are speaking to.
Online learning offers a great deal of flexibility, convenience, and may be less expensive in the long run. However, before you make the decision to jump into an online program, make sure it is right for you.