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Online College Courses: An Effective Way to Learn

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It seems like online college courses have taken the country by storm. Most brick-and-mortar colleges and universities require traditional-aged students to take a combination of classroom and online courses, and working professionals and adults with families are taking online courses right from their own homes.

They’re trendy at the moment, and a list of advantages of taking college classes online would be enormous, but just how effective are they? Can you really learn at the college level without ever setting foot inside a classroom?

Students Performed Well in Online-Only Classes

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, revised by the U.S. Department of Education in September 2010, analyzed more than 1,000 other studies of online education conducted since 1996.

The analysis found that students in an online-only setting performed marginally better than students in a classroom-only setting, but results did not point to specific institutions or suggest that online programs are of a higher quality than traditional ones.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the Department of Education’s analysis found that blended learning, a combination of online and in-class instruction, appears to be the most effective teaching method.

Online Classes Good for Non-Traditional Students

“I have found the program, which is predominantly online, to be far more rewarding and fulfilling than I ever imagined,” Anthony Adornato, director of communications at Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute, says of his own graduate studies at the University of Missouri. “Having said that, I think there is a big difference between getting a master’s degree online versus an undergraduate degree online. I don’t think there is anything that could replace the ‘traditional’ college experience.”

But for nontraditional students looking to pursue any type of degree, taking classes online should not be a deterrent, the studies suggest. “Students are highly engaged when they work online because they get instant feedback,” Marc Loudon, a professor of medicinal chemistry at Purdue University, told U.S. News and World Report. “The degree of benefit surprised me—I hate to admit it. The study convinced me of something that I didn’t believe would happen.”

8 Common Mistakes Online Students Make

Interested in taking online college courses? US News and World Report advises potential online students to avoid these common mistakes. They’re biggies because they can cost you money and hurt your academic records.

1. Not checking out the school. Make sure you verify a college’s accreditation with the U.S. Department of Education. Attending a non-accredited school is most likely a waste of time and money—most other colleges won’t let you transfer any credits you earned there, and most employers with college tuition programs won’t reimburse you for attending a school that isn’t accredited.

2. Signing up for a course without budgeting enough time. As someone that’s taken both traditional and online classes, I speak from experience when I say that online college courses will probably take up a lot more time than you’d expect. You’ll need to set aside about ten hours per week for each online class you plan on taking.

3. Being unrealistic about your learning style. Online college classes aren’t for everyone. If you need face-to-face communication or you learn better from listening than reading, you might be better off taking traditional classes.

4. Committing to an online course without first ensuring your technology matches the school’s. You’ll need a reliable internet connection if you want to earn your degree online, as well as regular access to a computer and any software that might be required.

5. Not checking out the teacher. You won’t see them in person, but online professors are real people. Find out how long they’ve been teaching and whether or not they’ve taught online classes before. You’d do a bit of research on the professor before you registered for a class on campus, wouldn’t you? Check out your online professors, too.

6. Taking on too much too soon. Taking on a full course load during your first semester of online classes is usually not a good idea. Test the waters with one or two courses before you dive all the way in.

7. Thinking that since it is an online course, it is OK to “copy and paste.” Plagiarism and cheating are just as wrong online as they are in a traditional classroom.

8. Being unprepared or unwilling to cooperate with a virtual team. Procrastinating, especially when other people are depending on you for a group project, will cause more harm than good. Set aside enough time to study each week and participate fully in class. Your grades will show it!

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Melissa Rhone+

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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James Caras over 6 years ago James Caras


The online homework software used by Purdue is Sapling Learning. Other universities, such as the Colorado School of Mines and the Univ. of North Texas have reported similar increases in student performance in other science courses.