In a nutshell, online education requires self-discipline, organization, and the ability to use modern technology. Students must be able to learn through written words, not audible words. And they must feel comfortable sharing information over the Internet. Students must also believe their education can be learned without ever stepping foot in a traditional classroom setting.
To determine whether or not online education is right for you, you need to be honest with yourself and ask the following questions?
Why do you really want to return to college?
Understanding the real reason for returning to college is vital to your success. If you're returning to college just to have something to do in the evenings, returning to college is not for you. But if you are returning to college to better your lifestyle, get a raise, advance your career, or set an example for your children, then there's a 90% chance you'll not only complete your courses, but get a good education in the process.
Why do you want to pursue an online education instead of attending a traditional in-person college?
If you're a social butterfly who flourishes when others are around, attending an online course may not be for you. If, on the other hand, you're quiet and reserved, online education can be your ticket to success.
"Research indicates that quiet students often thrive in online courses," says Dr. Stella Thompson, an online Assistant Professor of English at Prairie View A&M University. "This environment enables quiet students to consider a response and to compose and revise that response multiple times before making their knowledge public."
Do you tend to quit a project due to lack of motivation?
If you can't stay motivated on your own, an online institution is not your best choice for getting a degree. Attending an online college means you must be self-motivated. You won't find the professor, or another student reminding you to get to work, stay on task, or turn your assignments in on time.
"Completing a degree online demonstrates a tremendous commitment and discipline on behalf of the student," says Shari Sterling, Director of Enrollment Management at Northcentral University. "The student must be self-motivated to be successful."
Do you work better alone or with other people around?
Can you work in solitude? While you may be networking with other people through the Internet, you won't see these people face-to-face and that can feel isolating at times.
Do you need in-person study groups to help you complete assignments and shoot ideas off of, or can you find the same help from Internet interaction? Why does one method work better for you than the other?
Do you learn better by reading, by listening, or by seeing?
When you read information, do you comprehend what you've read easily or must you read the information several times to understand what is being said? If you find it difficult to comprehend information when read, and learn better through visual or audible techniques, you may want to find a traditional institution.
Can you write your thoughts down so others understand what points you are conveying?
Since online courses require the use of written words to ask and answer questions, as well as turning in assignments, you must be comfortable with sharing your ideas in written form.
How many hours can you devote to learning, studying, and homework?
You need to set aside time every day to work on your courses. Whether you're researching, reading, completing an assignment, or meeting your classmates in an online forum, your education needs to have a priority in your busy schedule.
"Just because you don't have to attend school at a particular time everyday, doesn't mean you don't need a daily or weekly regimen," says Terri Main, an online instructor and teacher of 20 years. Your schedule "may vary from day to today, or simply be spending 30 minutes a day on your education, but it needs to be consistent."
Does your work require you to travel a lot?
If you're constantly away from your home computer, it can be difficult to get your assignments done. However, it's not impossible. If you travel a lot, you'll need to invest in a laptop computer and wireless Internet access.
Do you have a working computer in your home?
If your computer is over two years old, it could be outdated and unable to handle the demands of attending an online institution. You need to find out what kinds of software programs are needed for the course you plan to take and if your computer has enough RAM, and hard drive space.
Keep in mind that you can use an older computer, but if it doesn't have enough memory or space to run a particular program it will stall and freeze, which can be very frustrating and eventually cause you to quit.
Do you have dial-up Internet access or high-speed cable/DSL?
The courses you take will determine which Internet access is best. If you have dial-up Internet access, you'll need to set aside more time for research, uploading, and downloading.
Do you understand how the Internet works?
When taking online courses, you'll need to understand more than just how to log onto the Internet. You'll need to understand:
- how search engines work;
- how to send and receive email;
- how to attach documents in an email;
- how to download programs or documents to your computer;
- how to find downloads later, when you need them;
- how to use hyperlinks;
- how to use chat rooms, message boards, forums, or instant messaging and what the proper etiquette is;
- how to protect your private information; and
- how to protect your computer from hackers, spam, and viruses.
Do you know how to cut and paste?
Sometimes you'll need to take information you've written in one program and put it in another program. This is called "cut and paste." If you don't know how to do this, find out how before you begin your online education.
Do you find learning new computer programs easy or hard?
Depending on the online course you take, you may need to download new software programs. If you find it difficult to learn new computer technology, you'll need to either set aside more time for learning, or take a traditional class.
"Online learning can be completely dynamic and engaging! Whether it is due to health, excessive job travel, military personnel stationed overseas, or living in a remote or rural area, continuing your education and earning your degree online" is possible, says Sterling.
Are you ready to take the next step?