Today, more students are comfortable with learning online. With more advanced tools and learning management systems allowing for educators to impart information more effectively to students, not only has a cottage industry of institutions been created, but traditional college and university programs have also integrated online education into their curriculums. The online education market is projected to grow to $72.41bn between 2020 and 2024.
Many attribute the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns to the increase in the numbers of students getting their degrees through online learning. However, while the impacts of COVID-19 played a role in students opting for online courses, many students chose to complete courses online before the onset of the pandemic. In 2018, 47% of students enrolled in online degree programs simply because personal/professional obligations made it difficult for them to attend the traditional college/university program.
The rise in the number of college students attending online programs is no surprise, considering how convenient online education has become. Class offerings are either asynchronous, which allows the student to access course material at their convenience, or synchronous, which mandates that students log onto the student portal at certain times. In either case, online education has alleviated the pressures for non-traditional college students – for example, professionals returning to school, single parents, and adults changing careers who want to pursue a degree but might not have the time to do so.
Online education has also made going to school convenient for traditional undergraduate students pursuing their degrees. However, beyond the convenience of attending college when time permits, undergraduate online education provides students with several advantages. Below are a few advantages of enrolling in an online undergraduate course of study.
Benefits of enrolling in an online undergraduate degree program
Online undergraduate degrees work out to be less expensive than attending classes in a traditional program. Students who enroll in a traditional college program that requires attending face-to-face courses not only pay for tuition and books, but also have an assortment of additional costs associated with going to school. For one, students must travel to a campus, which requires them to either live on-campus in dorm housing or pay rent in an apartment nearby the campus. Furthermore, if driving to campus, students must also pay for gas and a parking decal.
Conversely, courses taught online reduce the costs to attend school drastically. A student is not required to pay for parking or drive to attend school. More significantly, they do not have to spend money on housing on-campus or off-campus. Furthermore, if the student must care for small children, they typically pay for daycare when they are at school. Being able to stay at home with children allows the parent to study without worrying about paying for daycare. In the end, online degree programs translate into savings for students who would rather learn virtually.
Attending an online undergraduate course or program also gives students the option of getting their education without having to relocate. Before the advent of online education, students did not have too many options in terms of getting their education. They could take distance education courses, which overwhelmingly did not provide students with the full academic experience, or they relocated to their college or university, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles away from home.
If they chose to travel long distances to attend school, students left their home, their parents and their support system to earn their degree. Alternatively, a student can be accepted into an online academic program from a university based in another city or country and stay at home, the virtual landscape becoming the vehicle through which they access their education. For students unsure of whether they want to leave family and friends, online education offers them the rigors of university study in an environment that is more supportive. Having a support system is especially important for students leaving for school for the first time, and the online educational landscape allows students to learn in an environment that is familiar and comfortable for them.
Customizable learning environment
Not only do students benefit from not having to travel long distances to attend school, but online programs also allow students to customize their learning environment. In the traditional class, students are seated at desks or computer workstations while the professor imparts information. Students must accommodate other students in the classroom, sometimes dealing with the distractions. However, students who attend an online course can decide where they learn, whether it is in a local library, café or park.
Moreover, students can set the stage for learning – for example, creating a study/workspace that contains visually pleasing elements such as plants, pictures or artwork. Additionally, students can create a space that is quiet and free from distraction, something not always found in the traditional academic environment.
Depending on the school and course, some students might also incorporate the use of other devices in learning. With the right technology, students can watch lectures, read course material, and engage in community chat on their mobile devices or notebooks while riding to school, waiting for the bus, or doing other activities. The online course landscape is such that students can take it with them wherever they go.
Allows students to take ownership of education
When students enroll in an education program, they in a sense invest in their future. However, this investment takes on a greater meaning in the online environment because students must actively engage in the educational environment compared with face-to-face courses. In the traditional classroom, students sit before a teacher who imparts information, and if the student is engaged in the material, then they learn.
However, in the online format, students are forced to engage in the material or else fail the course, whether this involves watching course videos, reading course texts, being involved with course discussions, or even taking tests. Because courses are learning-facilitated, learning is self-directed with guidance from the instructor.
Furthermore, if the course is not synchronous, requiring the student to log on at specific times, then students can pace themselves by taking as long as is needed to finish a course. If a student is finding it difficult to grasp a concept, the online setting gives them a little more time to review key concepts, whereas in the traditional classroom, the teacher sets the pace and students are at the mercy of the instructor to review if concepts are too difficult. By the same token, students who grasp concepts a lot faster do not necessarily have to wait for the rest of the class. Instead, they have the option of moving on to the next module or milestone.
Enjoy learning from a global perspective
The internet has made the world a smaller place. The amazing thing is that students living in different parts of the world can engage and relate with one another if they have an internet connection and device. In the educational space, students benefit from an educational platform that offers them more in terms of resources.
If they choose to do so, students can access information on a range of topics not only from experts within the US, but also from professionals across the world. This presents students with the opportunity of learning from a global perspective. This works especially well for people who are taking coursework in business because it allows the student to learn from the expertise of others who work in this field. Finally, learning from a panoramic perspective helps students think critically about the subject matter and problem-solve.
Acquire technical skills
In a day and age when technology skills are necessary, taking classes online can help students not only become comfortable with learning computer applications, but also help students develop technical skills that they might need in the future. For one, students must learn how to master online chat, learn how to submit assignments, download materials, and take tests, in addition to a host of activities they must engage in as part of learning. Naturally, when students enter their profession, they have had sufficient interactions with technology to work in a professional environment that requires some level of tech literacy.
For undergraduates, the online educational environment makes it possible for students to achieve a good school-life balance. A student attending the traditional brick-and-mortar program who has enrolled in a full class load can spend a considerable amount of their time sitting in class. The student must then spend time studying their coursework. If the student has a part-time job, then they are spending extra time at work, leaving little time for themselves. Online education provides undergraduate students with more control over their schedule, giving them more time at their disposal.
Can work and go to school
As students are provided with more of a school-life balance, they can feasibly hold down a part-time or full-time job while attending school. Again, if attending the traditional program, a student can only attend classes when they are not at work. For students who have shift work or who work business hours (8am to 5pm), the traditional course schedule does not allow them much leeway. In many cases, students rely on weekend or night classes to learn.
However, online courses are not limited by time, so students can work at any time of the day if the course is asynchronous. Furthermore, by engaging the coursework online through videoconferencing and streamed videos, students have more control over how much time they can spend studying. This flexibility of the online class environment makes the impossibility of attending courses for a working student very possible.
Reduce carbon footprint
For those looking to reduce their impact on the Earth, there are some environmental benefits to learning online. Because the online learning environment is paperless, students do not waste copious amounts of paper or ink. Many online learning environments have done away with paper exams in place of exams that can be taken, submitted and scored after the student has taken the test.
Students not only save the environment in terms of learning in a paperless environment, but they also reduce the amount of energy they use. In one publication, the University of the People reports that students who enroll in online courses reduce their fuel reliance by 85%. Finally, online courses are attributed to a 90% reduction in the amount of energy (including electricity) that is used. Both of these percentages are compared with face-to-face class meetings.
What to consider in an online program
With the benefits of earning an undergraduate degree online very apparent, how do you go about finding an appropriate program? One of the first things that students should consider is their needs when searching for a program – in terms of an appropriate format, graduation requirements, and transfer policies, among other things.
Students must also consider whether they want to attend classes that will allow them to log on at their convenience (asynchronous), or one where the professor requires students to log onto the course shell at specific times (synchronous). Other considerations include whether the program requires students to attend labs, face-to-face class sessions, internships, or practicum hours, all activities that require the student to show up in person.
Other considerations include the quality of the program being offered. One of the first indicators of whether a program is legitimate is its accreditation. Accredited institutions have met the high standards of national or regional accreditation organizations. More importantly, students should know the accreditation status of a degree program, especially in cases where licensing/credentialing and employment are concerned, to avoid earning a degree from an institution and the degree not being valid.
According to a September 2022 Best Schools article, the best schools offer regional accreditation, which makes it possible for students to transfer credits from one school to another, meet licensure/credentialing requirements, and become eligible for financial aid. Students interested in finding out the accreditation status of a program of interest can search for it in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Students should also look at the student support services that the institution offers. Earning a degree can be overwhelming for undergraduate students, especially if the person has additional obligations such as family and work. For this reason, an online academic program that offers students additional support in terms of online help, mental wellness support, and career support to help them transition from their degree program to employment fully prepares the student to achieve their professional goals.
Pay attention to what the data says about the school. Some of the things to pay attention to include graduation rates and loan default rates, because dismal numbers might indicate a problem with the online program. Alternatively, good numbers reflect that the school is doing a good job.
Finally, a very important aspect to look for is the skills and training of the faculty. Students should pay attention to whether the professors have experienced teaching online because it is a very different experience, even with all the advanced tools. Furthermore, students should look at the number of adjuncts (part-time), associate, and visiting professors on staff.
What to avoid
Online programs have proliferated, offering students a variety of options. At the same time, however, students are also vulnerable to scams and poor educational experiences. Students should pay attention to academic programs that advertise vague or misleading information about their institution, and also institutions that ask students to pay expensive fees upfront and have pushy marketing campaigns. In terms of faculty quality, the student only needs to pay attention to the school’s accreditation because the standards in terms of hiring qualified faculty are high.
Embarking on any educational journey can be an exciting one. In the digital age, technology has made a way for students who would not otherwise be able to attend college to do so. For online undergraduate students, online education today has advanced to the point that, while there is no in-person contact, students get the same education. Even though not meeting in class has its disadvantages, attending an online degree program holds a host of benefits for students, many mentioned in the above paragraphs.
To increase the likelihood of having a good online educational experience, consider some of the above tips on what to look for in a program. Online education is such that the process for applying and being admitted has been simplified. Through the various learning management systems, navigating the course shell for students is easy. More importantly, many of these programs are accredited, whether regionally, nationally or both, and have good graduation rates. Self-assessing one’s educational needs and researching the various programs can make for an easy transition into an academic degree program that not only leads to a great educational experience, but is also the stepping stone toward a great career filled with many wonderful and infinite possibilities.