Before you dive into this Guide and all things related to online education, you might still be wondering about the benefits of online education. Why should you study online? What's the advantage? And what's all the fuss? It's hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to online degrees — especially since so much of the published information comes from schools and students, who are usually biased.
The following bullets represent the upsides of online education, traits that are beneficial to various types of learners. If any of these attributes could improve your college experience, you should consider an online degree. Because when all is said and done, the only substantive difference between a campus education and an online education is the building.
Online education critics seem to share the idea that "convenient" is a negative word — that anything worth earning should be exhausting and barely manageable. They assume that people who ask about convenience are lazy, or spending all day in their pajamas. But that's far from true.
The Internet makes it possible to unite students and instructors without long commutes or fixed class schedules. Working professionals can study at night. Stay-at-home parents can study during kids' naptime. Military members can study from any new post to which they are assigned. None of these people are lazy or prone to cutting corners. On the contrary, they are busy, ambitious learners, who simply need a better college design.
And because they are all good candidates for employment, employers are increasingly happy to accept their online credentials.
College students who live in major cities might choose to access campus programs. Thousands of other students simply cannot. Unless you live in a college town, the cost of commuting — in terms of time and fuel prices — can be prohibitive. In the state of Wyoming, which covers 97,818 square miles, only 4 bachelor's degree-granting colleges exist. In Nebraska, one high school district is the size of Connecticut state! Rather than accept college as an impossibility, residents of these far-flung communities can log on to online programs and earn their degrees.
Twenty years ago, these students would have had to choose between moving their families, or getting by on a high school diploma. Today, online education is removing geographic barriers.
Most traditional college classrooms aren't designed to accommodate students with disabilities. Online classes, by contrast, can be engineered to support students with intellectual and physical disabilities as well people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing and blind/low vision. Likewise, gifted instructors who lose the ability to teach in a traditional classroom can continue their careers, thanks to online functionality.
For every 2,500 miles you drive, you release one ton of carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere.[i]That's you, alone. If you lived 10 miles away from a college, and commuted 3 or 4 times every week, you'd create nearly 3 tons of greenhouse gases during the course of a 4-year degree. Along with 20 classmates, you'd be producing 60 tons!
Moreover, campus colleges produce excess pollution in the process of heating and cooling their classrooms, powering their libraries and computer labs, and creating increased paper waste. As environmental concerns heighten, online education is becoming the obvious, earth-friendly choice.
In 2006, the state of Michigan passed a law that all students must complete an online learning experience or an online class in order to graduate from high school. And the federal government plans to invest more money in online charter schools, for K-12 students across the country. So it's apparent that tomorrow's students will be seeing more e-learning technology. And clearly, education authorities are recognizing the value of online learning.
Soon, more and more colleges will develop online programs to help stretch their budgets and expand their enrollments. Already, major names in traditional education — like MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale — are offering online podcasts of course lectures. It may one day be possible for students to choose specific courses from multiple schools, all across the globe, and build their own personalized degrees.
Until then, more than 4.6 million college students are already taking at least one course online.[ii] That adds up to 1 in 4 college students. Experts predict that numbers will continue to grow. With growth, online degrees will be not just accepted, but expected, as a component of tomorrow's college education.
[i] "Emission Facts: Average Annual Emissions and Fuel Consumption for Passenger Cars and Light Trucks" (2000), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
[ii] Sloan Survey of Online Learning, "Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States in 2009"