From home office desktops, kitchen tables and coffee shops, laptops and tablets, and cell phones on-the-go, the global online college campus keeps growing with increasing opportunities.
Enrollment in online universities continues to surge as more schools add virtual components to their curriculum and more students – notably adult learners seeking to better themselves and boost their job credentials – forego brick-and-mortar campuses for a fresh take on the traditional classroom. Between 2016 and 2020, enrollment at online-only institutions grew by 43%, according to “The Business Journals.”
When it comes to the various advantages and disadvantages of online learning, the former is increasing as the virtual classroom evolves. Here are eight advantages to online learning, especially for the busy, working adult:
At a time when 61% of people working from home are doing so because they want to, it’s clear that flexibility is one of the clear advantages on the minds of current and prospective online students. Adult learners returning to college can thrive in an online environment because they’re given the ability to learn anytime, anywhere.
An online degree program grants you more control over your schedule because you log into the classroom when it’s convenient for you, so you never have to worry you’ve missed an important lecture or discussion.
It’s not just the convenient classes. Schools such as the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) offer flexible start dates, allowing you to begin your degree program outside of the traditional spring/fall semester windows. Further, UAGC is among the online universities that allows students to take one course at a time, for 5–6* weeks at a time, and still graduate on time.
2. Soft skills
Another key reason why online learning is an advantage for students is because all the work you’ll do will help sharpen your soft skills – the intangible qualities that set you apart and allow you to succeed in a classroom or workplace setting. Communication is one example of a soft skill.
3. Time management
In a traditional college setting, your classes come with defined start and end times, and all you need to do is make sure you don’t show up late. Online education challenges you to become a master of time management. Many adult learners pursuing their degrees online are already working full-time jobs and raising families, so they must develop a realistic schedule on their own and finish their schoolwork using the windows of time between their other responsibilities.
As an online learner, you have the opportunity to overcome any instinct you have toward procrastination. Every time you log in to read a new chapter during your lunch break, or stay up late to finish an assignment, you are strengthening the self-motivation techniques that will impress a current or future employer, and you’ll make yourself feel all the more accomplished.
In the online classroom, you will engage with students from all walks of life logging in from around the world. In time, you’ll come to appreciate other points of view and perfect your abilities to engage with others virtually. It can be challenging at first, because written communication in discussion posts and emails is a skillset that develops over time. But as you make adjustments, you’ll learn how to communicate your messages and opinions much more effectively and in the right tone.
You’ll further enhance your writing skills if you take advantage of the support offered by your university. UAGC, for example, supports its students with a full-service Writing Center that allows you to fine-tune these abilities, while also mastering the commonly used APA writing style. The result is a more refined, to the point, and professional writing approach for emails, text messages, and more, rather than off-the-cuff, stream of consciousness writing that can often leave the reader confused.
6. Technical skills
It’s not just the soft skills that get a workout when you’re an online student. You’ll use a variety of classroom apps and messaging apps, as well as Microsoft Office and more. An advantage to online learning is an enhancement of your technical skills. In an online learning environment, you gain invaluable experience on many of the same platforms used in today’s workplace, and the technology keeps getting better.
Consider the explosive growth of mobile websites and apps over the past decade. Mobile keyboards make it easier to type, and mobile-friendly, fully optimized experiences allow you to stay up-to-date with younger generations of learners and workers. Now, think forward, and consider how virtual and augmented reality can further impact the educational landscape, and expose adult learners to even more advanced technologies while still in school.
7. Money Savings
Online education saves you money. While tuition rates vary between universities, an online education can save you money in ways that aren’t apparent at first glance. Think about it from the perspective of a home buyer. You’ve just made an offer and secured your mortgage, and while you might be satisfied with your monthly payment, the cost of utilities, home security, lawn or landscaping maintenance, and even pest control could wipe out any notion that you “saved” money on your purchase.
If the question is, “What are the advantages of online education?” you need only look into your wallet for this answer, and not just because you’re saving on a meal plan and gas.
The average one-way commute in the United States surged to a high of 27.6 minutes in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. When you’re an online student, your commute is history, and in periods of rising gas prices, those savings add up. Plus, you’re helping the environment while keeping miles off your odometer.
Time is the one thing no person can buy or get back when it’s gone. When you’re not rushing back-and-forth to class, buying lunch at the student union, or waiting in line at the administrative office, you’re holding onto your time and prioritizing what’s really important.
Meanwhile, the concept of providing tuition assistance in order to continually develop a company’s workforce continues to gain steam. Employers see this as an added incentive during recruitment, and more companies are offering tuition benefits. If you are a prospective student, you should research any school you’re applying to and find out if they have tuition assistance agreements with employers. UAGC, for example, partners with corporations of all sizes — T-Mobile, USPS, Edward Jones, and Walgreens, among others — and government agencies to offer employees a chance to earn a college degree with little or no loan debt.
This not only reduces the student debt burden for employees but also enhances their potential for a promotion or a move to a new division within the company. For an employer, tuition assistance programs serve the dual purposes of reskilling and upskilling, and the company reaps the benefits when students are able to immediately apply what they’ve learned in the workplace. Rather than seeing high-potential employees leave to attend traditional college, tuition assistance allows them to retain their brightest and best, while giving those workers a chance to shine.
8. Online learning widens your network
In a traditional college setting, you’re often grouped into a class with peers of the same age, all of you in school learning new things for the first time together.
Online, however, your virtual classroom includes people from all backgrounds, some with years of professional experience, and your success depends on your ability to engage with these classmates. This demographic mix creates networking opportunities across the board, with students able to ask questions and seek advice in ways they could never do while attending a traditional school.
At UAGC, students also have the opportunity to take part in the CHAMPS Peer Mentoring Program, which pairs high-achieving learners with those still adapting to the virtual classroom. The relationships forged in CHAMPS can lead to introductions and opportunities years beyond graduation.
The benefits of online learning will only be greater and could come at a faster pace, as more elementary school-aged children make the move to the virtual classroom. Their familiarity with online learning early in life will put pressure on colleges to make greater investments in technology tools in order to meet students where they are.
What are the Disadvantages of Online Learning?
While there are many advantages to online learning, there are also disadvantages. So you need to consider all the pros and cons before making a decision to pursue a degree online.
First, you should ask yourself if you have the time. Online learning frees up a lot of hours, but not everyone can spare those hours. Before you enroll, you should make sure you’ll be able to manage the time needed to complete your classwork while doing your job and taking care of your family.
Second, will you be able to focus and self-manage your tasks? In a traditional classroom setting, you are often seated forward alongside other students, listening to your instructor and answering questions. Online students, however, must learn to work through more distractions. If you have kids, you’ll want to have a family conversation ahead of time to ensure that you’re able to do your work uninterrupted. If you want to study on your lunch break at work, you’ll have to find a place to be alone where you won’t have to constantly respond to emails.
These disadvantages can be overcome with self-discipline, but like anything else, online learning takes some getting used to.
If you’re confident and ready to reap the benefits of an online education, contact an Enrollment Services Advisor and start the conversation about your future.
Byline: University Staff
*Bachelor’s degree classes are 5 weeks, graduate degree classes are 6 weeks, and Doctoral capstone, planning and project classes are 9 weeks in length.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.