Pros and Cons of Online Learning

The advantages and disadvantages of digital distance education

Just as with traditional learning, online learning comes with distinct advantages and disadvantages. If you're new to the world of Internet-based education, it's important that you have a clear idea of what to expect to help you make a smoother, easier transition. It also helps if you are able to anticipate challenges you might face, given your personal aptitudes and learning style.

Online education does offer several powerful advantages over the traditional classroom, but these advantages do come with some trade-offs. Armed with a better understanding of these pros and cons, you can make an informed decision as to whether you think online education is the right choice for you.

Online Education: Advantages

Online learning offers some unique benefits, including:

  • Anywhere, any place, any time. This is the biggest and most obvious advantage of online learning. You will enjoy a great deal of customization over your learning schedule, engaging with course materials and completing assignments at the times which are most convenient for you. You're also able to learn from any Internet-connected location, which is a major advantage if you're balancing work and family life in addition to your education.
  • An even playing field. With online education, there is more anonymity, and while traditional institutions go to great length to avoid discrimination and favoritism, they can still happen. In an online environment, it's less likely to happen since instructors and students have little if any face-to-face contact.
  • More focus on students. Student engagement is the focus of online education, and in an effort to encourage a collaborative and interactive learning environment, many instructors require students to participate in online forums. These forums are excellent for discussing course material and exchanging opinions on course-related topics, and participation rates are generally higher than what you would see in a classroom-based discussion.
  • Resource availability. The digitization of course resources means that lectures, podcasts and other instructional modules are always available for review. You can easily and instantly access all course materials to help foster a better understanding of the core concepts being taught in your classes.

Online Education: Disadvantages

You should weigh the advantages of online learning against its disadvantages, which include:

  • Limitations for dependent learners. While online learning is great for independent learners, you may not perform as well if you're what is known as a "dependent learner," which is simply a student that requires more reinforcement and direct interaction in order to master concepts. If you have a dependent learning style, it may be more difficult for you to adapt to online learning.
  • Reliance on access to technology. To fully participate in some programs, you will need more than just computer access. Some mobile learning methodologies rely on notebook computers, tablets, smartphones and social media, and you need to be plugged in to take part. This may require not only a larger financial investment, but also time spent learning to use technology you may not already be familiar with.
  • Lack of face-to-face contact. Some students simply find the experience of learning in a traditional classroom environment more comfortable and familiar. When you learn online, you will likely not have any direct person-to-person interaction with your instructor or fellow students, which can make you feel disengaged.

One good tip to keep in mind if you're new to online learning and you're not sure whether or not it's for you: start out slowly. In addition to allowing you to set your own study schedule, many online schools also let you customize how many classes you are taking at any given time and how much time you can take to complete the program requirements. In the beginning, take only one class at a time until you have adapted to online learning. If you decide it's not for you, this approach also helps you minimize your investment of time and money.