Online Education: Is It Really Worth Pursuing?

Posted on Jun 13 2014 - 8:44am by Kimberley Laws


If you’ve never understood why “wanting to have your cake and eat it too” is a bad thing, you’re not alone. Thankfully, when it comes to higher education, there is a way to enjoy the freedom of flexible hours and work towards your degree. Yes, online education allows you to put that decadent slice of red velvet confection on your plate and devour it.

Unfortunately, not everyone is suited to pursuing their degree online–nor is every online degree created equal. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before investing your time and hard-earned dough on a distance education.

Why should I consider the online education option?

Distance Education has evolved dramatically since the days when Sally Struthers served as the poster person for the correspondence school, ICS. With highly esteemed institutions like Stanford, Duke, and MIT entering into the online education arena, the stigma surrounding distance learning has largely gone the way of the one-room school house.

Pursuing a degree online enables you to schedule your study time around other commitments such as your job and your family life. As “Six Degrees For Busy Adults” tells us, “Perhaps the biggest plus with online learning is that you don’t have to sacrifice being away from your job,” meaning that you can maintain your paycheck, seniority, and benefits.

Plus, imagine being able to learn any time you choose. As an added bonus, you will not be tied to a particular location either–free to study from home, your local coffee shop, or even from the hotel on your vacation. Yes, goodbye pricy petrol and over-priced bus passes. Thanks to this online option, your commuting days are over.

There are plenty of myths concerning online education. The reality is that online courses use the same curriculum as their on-campus counterparts, so you will end up learning the same things that you would through a traditional program. Although the courses are somewhat shorter, they do not skip over content. The idea is that since you are learning on your own time, you can fit more coursework into each week. These courses do have deadlines that students must meet, which creates a structured environment, despite their inherent flexibility. Communicating with classmates is a major part of online learning as well, so you do not miss out on this aspect of your education.

How do I know if Online Education is the right option for me?

Not everyone is suited to pursuing their degree online. If you find yourself among those who would enjoy greater success by taking the traditional on-campus route, don’t fret. The important thing is to find this out before you sink a wad of cash into an online education.

In order to thrive as a long-distance learner you need to be extremely self-motivated, able to work from home without getting distracted, function without face-to-face interaction with your instructor or peers, keep extremely well-organized, and have no trouble creating and adhering to a set schedule. If you’re not sure, you may want to try a demo of the course being offered.

It is also important that you have access to the tools that you will need to study at home including a computer, access to the internet, a printer, a webcam, and a designated spot for studying. You will also need to ensure that you possess the prerequisites for your desired course.

How do I choose an online educator?

Once you’ve done your research and discovered a few schools that offer the program that you’re after, you will need to try to narrow down your choices. In order to pick the best institution, you will need to consider a few important factors.

  • Accreditation. While most online educational institutions are above-board and provide a quality education and enable you to earn a diploma or degree that will be respected by employers, there are still a few “diploma mills” in the marketplace. That’s why it is important to ensure that your degree comes from an accredited college or university. The U.S. Department of Education has compiled a comprehensive Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
  • Reputation. When it comes to applying for jobs, your degree is only as good as the institution from which it was earned. That is why it is important to learn as much as you can about an educator before you entrust them with your future. If possible, contact alumni to see what they liked and did not like about the program, research the instructors’ qualifications, conduct online research, and talk to the College Admissions Counselor. And don’t forget to find out if they have 24-hour technical support, a toll-free number, or chat help. Also, do they offer career guidance upon graduation?
  • Transfer Credits. If you have earned credits at another institution, you could potentially save a pile of money and a whole lot of time if these credits could be applied to your new course of study. Plus, if you are going to be pursuing further education down the line, you will also want to check that the courses you complete online will be transferrable to your future studies.
  • Student Services. On-campus students are treated to a barrage of student services and activities. If you would like to have access to the College’s library, exercise facilities, career counseling services, tutoring, or special events, you will need to find out what options are open to online students.
  • Financial Considerations. Pursuing an education can be an expensive endeavor, so it is important to keep tuition costs and the ability to secure financial aid in mind. Remember that you may also qualify for a scholarship–yes, you can get a scholarship to pursue an online education. You may discover that you are an ideal candidate for some financial help at Distance Learning Scholarships.

What are some examples of highly rated online programs?

According to the “Honor Roll” published by U.S. News, some schools performed well above the rest in student engagement and assessment, student services and technology, and faculty credentials and training. The top picks for Best Online Bachelor’s Programs were Central Michigan University and Suny College of Technology-Delhi, both of which tied for first place, and Pace University and Pennsylvania State University who were tied for third. 

So put on a happy face. Pursuing your education does not mean quitting your job or moving away to a land far, far away. You can have a thickly cut slice of cake and eat it and come back for more. 

Have you completed an online diploma or degree? What did you like or dislike about going the online route? Why? 

About the Author

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer, avid blogger, career counselor and High School English Teacher. You can follow her at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.