Online classes, or distance learning, have changed the way we go to school. A college education was once limited to those who could physically attend courses at scheduled times. In addition to going to class, travelling was involved. Full-time employees and parents often put their college dreams on hold due to schedule conflicts.
What was once considered a futuristic and almost humorous idea has now become the norm. A growing number of students, many of them working professionals and busy parents, are choosing to take some or all of their classes online. Online education programs have made college accessible to millions of people, but they are not limited to non-traditional students. Many universities require freshmen to take some of their required core classes online rather than in the traditional format.
According to a study conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group at Babson College in Massachusetts, more than six million college students took at least one online class in 2011. That means nearly one-third of all college students are taking at least one of their classes online.
Online classes offer flexibility and a variety of other benefits. Parents can go to college from home without spending money on daycare. People can drive home after work and sit down to eat dinner before they work on their classes, rather than rush to campus while eating in their car. If your time management skills are top notch, it’s even possible to get ahead in your coursework because readings and assignments are posted well in advance!
But like all students, some online students make critical mistakes that get in the way of their potential success. Try to avoid these frequent misconceptions and mistakes:
1. Assuming it will be easy. Even people who aren’t going to college mistakenly assume that online classes are easy. They aren’t “real” classes, right? While some people honestly find them easier, others dislike the lack of in-person interaction and struggle because of it. How will you know if online classes are right for you? Try a free one first and see if you’re able to make it before you commit to spending money.
2. Ignoring or not paying attention to college accreditation. The fact that you don’t have to physically go to school means you have almost endless possibilities when choosing an online college. One thing that’s important to take into consideration is the school’s accreditation. Is it nationally or regionally accredited? If you decide that online classes aren’t right for you, will you be able to transfer the credits that you already earned to a college or university in your area? Many schools do not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited colleges. Some employers even have lower opinions of degrees granted by nationally accredited schools, which could affect your chances for career advancement or the ability to enter a new field. If you’re unsure, you may want to take online classes from a state school in your area rather than a college that is completely online. (Learn more about schools right here.)
3. Disregarding cost. A large majority of students rely on loans to finance their educations. Many borrow money without considering the amount of their future payments, which will kick in after graduation or after leaving school for other reasons—yes, even if a degree was not earned. Far too many students borrow too much and get into financial trouble as a result. According to CBS News, 1.5% of college students graduated with $100,000 or more in student loan debt.
4. Enrolling in too many classes at once. Biting off more than you can chew is a problem when it comes to most things in life. Signing up for too many classes is a mistake that a lot of new students make. Whether you honestly thought you could handle it or you wanted to get things out of the way faster, things can get tricky once you realize that you’re in over your head. If you withdraw from a class, you might still have to pay for it. If you decide to stick it out, your grades could suffer. A rule of thumb is to start with one or two classes to see how well you can handle them. If you’re fine, you may be able to take more next semester.
5. Not asking for help. The Chicago Tribune reported that asking for help doesn’t come naturally to some elementary school children, particularly those from working class families, but the same is true for adults in college! Far too many people think that asking for help is a sign of weakness. They’re too embarrassed to admit that something confuses them. When it comes to your classes, speak up when you need help! You won’t be able to raise your hand and ask the teacher a question like you would in a regular class setting, but you can email the professor or other students, or post your question on class message boards. You’re paying for these classes—get the most from them.
6. Studying in front of the TV. The fact that you don’t have to physically go to school is one of the biggest perks of taking your classes online, so you might be tempted to sit on the couch with your laptop. Don’t. Choose a dedicated spot where you will work, preferably in a room that has a door you can close. If possible, try to study at a specific time each day or evening. If the kids or your spouse are at home, let them know that you’re doing schoolwork and should not be interrupted. The Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech advises that these habits will make it easier to study and make your time more effective.
7. Procrastinating and skipping assignments. It’s easy to procrastinate, especially if you have all week or all semester to finish something. But if you put it off “just this once” and keep putting it off, there’s a good chance you’ll never get around to doing it at all. If you decide to skip one of your online assignments, even if it’s just this once, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Your grade will be affected and you might have trouble on subsequent assignments. If you honestly forgot to do something, or an emergency in your personal life occurred, ask the professor if you could possibly have an extension.
8. Cheating. Studies have shown that more students are cheating than ever before—even those at premier colleges and universities. Technological advancements have even made it easier. Although cheating is prohibited in online classes, just as it is on campus, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that online students are becoming savvier at sharing answers and purchasing assignments on the Internet. It may seem tempting, but it’s just not worth it. You could get kicked out of school if caught, and if not, classes build upon one another—courses are often based on things learned in previous courses. Researchers are continually working on ways to combat the problem, but there’s already one way to help combat it yourself—don’t do it.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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