The idea of online education was scoffed at not so many years ago. But these days both educational institutions and prospective students are taking online education seriously.
The first universities to offer accredited online degrees began appearing back in the 1990s. More often than not, these groundbreaking schools were looked down upon by the "academic elite," and considered to be somehow "shady" or disreputable. But a lot has certainly changed since then, and these days even the most prestigious Ivy League universities are offering online classes, and sometimes, a complete online curriculum for distance learning.
If you've wondered how online education works, or if it would be a good alternative for you, read on to get a sense of the online learning experience and what it means to be a "virtual student."
Obviously the biggest difference between online education and attending an actual university is that it is not necessary to be in any particular location to study. This means that much of the social aspect of going to college is removed from the online education experience. But depending on your point of view, this could actually be a very good thing. It makes it possible to bypass a lot of the peer pressure and "popularity contests" that many college cultures have become inundated with.
If you are an older student -- and by older, I mean over 24 -- you will probably find much of the petty jostling for popularity and status to be a real turnoff anyway. That's why online education can be a great option for returning students, or those who are a little more mature.
One of the biggest questions prospective students have about online education is how the virtual classroom actually works. While there are similarities between the virtual classrooms used in online education, and the brick and mortar classrooms of a traditional university, there are striking differences as well.
For example, if you attend a physical campus you will enter the classroom and attend a certain course at a certain time that will be designated to last between one and three hours on average. The instructor of the course will likely lecture for the majority of this time, but there may also be some student participation. At the end of the class the instructor may assign homework or inform students of upcoming quizzes.
But in a virtual classroom the structure is much more open, and there is a far greater degree of flexibility in the lesson plans. For example, normally you may log into your virtual class at any time, where you will listen, read and watch videos covering the course material. As a general rule, you may take as much time as you like to go over the material and complete any assignments given. While your course instructor will normally be available to ask questions via real-time online chat, e-mail or instant messaging, they will not monitor your progress or concern themselves with your work habits.
This means that with online education the student has far greater responsibility for their own learning. No one will babysit you, or ensure that you are doing the required work; it is simply presented to you, and you are expected to be responsible for completing assignments and reviewing the information.
This kind of freedom and flexibility fits many people perfectly, but others -- especially younger students -- may crave the structure of traditional campus learning. If your time is important to you, and you are motivated enough to be responsible for yourself, online education could be a perfect fit for you.