Are Online Courses Worth It? [8 Point Eval Guide]

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that online learning is not only essential, it provides some of the best educational opportunities available. While they have sometimes carried a negative stigma, online learning is now one of the largest educational communities — today, more than six million Americans are pursuing their education online

Whether you’re interested in sampling a few online courses or are looking for a complete degree program, there are countless online options available to you. But if you’re one of those people still on the fence, here are 8 reasons to take online courses and a quick guide to selecting the right one. 

The Myths About Online Courses

Myth #1: Online Courses Aren’t Difficult

Facts: Online courses offerings are incredibly diverse, both in their subject areas and difficulty levels. While some online learning platforms cater to entry-level learners, there are just as many challenging programs out there. In fact, many of the top-ranked colleges and universities offer their programs online, meaning students around the world can access the most challenging courses available. 

Myth #2: You Learn Less in an Online Course

Facts: Because many online learning classes are structured to allow learners to study the way they want to, many students end up learning more in an online course than they would in a traditional classroom. And because many online courses and programs are offered by colleges and universities, online learners are accessing the exact same curricula as they would on campus. 

Myth #3: You Won’t Get Support from Instructors

Facts: Large colleges and universities routinely host courses in lecture halls that hold 100, 200, and even 300 students. But with online courses, class rosters are typically capped at a much lower number, meaning you will have better access to teachers. On average, 97% of online institutions still maintain a 25:1 ratio of students to professors.

8 Reasons to Take Online Courses 

1. Choose From a Wide Variety of Subjects 

Most colleges and universities that offer online courses don’t only offer courses within one program or discipline. That means nearly the entire course catalog can be available online, giving learners a smorgasbord of options. Whether you’re interested in computer science and data analytics or construction and project management, there are online courses out there that satisfy your interests. And sometimes, there are even more class options online compared to in the classroom. 

2. Easily Communicate With Instructors

Online courses typically exist within an online learning portal hosted by the college or university that you’re attending. That means that everything you may need for the course — reading materials, lectures, presentations — are all available in one place. This portal also means that you have a direct communication line to your instructor. This helps learners keep in contact with instructors in a more immediate fashion than they could in a traditional lecture-style class. Some online courses even have an instant messenger feature that takes student-teacher communication to another level.

3. Save Money

While there are some instances where in-person learning is less expensive than certain online programs, by and large you will find that taking online courses will save you money. Online programs don’t require you to find new housing, pay for meal plans, cover activities fees or budget for any other unforeseen costs. With online courses you usually pay by the credit and will also have to budget for technology and book costs.

4. Learn In a Diverse “Classroom” 

When you choose to learn online, you are opening yourself up to the opportunity to learn and network with classmates from all over the country and world. It’s not uncommon to have people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and regions within the same course or program. This unique learning environment can take your learning to a new level by exposing you to differing perspectives informed by widely varying life experiences. 

5. Enjoy a Flexible Schedule 

Because most online students are working professionals — approximately 68% of online learners — courses have long been constructed to fit around busy schedules. Typically colleges and university online courses will be offered in a few different formats. First, there is online fixed date, which means that the course has a set start and end date, but you can complete the work when it works best for you. Online self-paced is a more laid-back style of learning that allows you to start the course at any time and complete the coursework within six months. Of course, there are also online classes that are more structured with set dates for lectures and assignments.

6. Earn Credits Toward a Degree

While this will largely depend on where you take your online courses and what degree programs you’re interested in, there are many colleges and universities that allow you to transfer your online course credits. Before enrolling in an online course, it is highly recommended that you confirm the transferability with the other institution or prospective college programs you’re interested in.

7. Review Course Materials Repeatedly 

When you learn in an online environment, you will have consistent access to resources you wouldn’t have in a regular classroom. Things like lectures and PowerPoints would normally be shown during class where students take frantic notes. But in online learning, this material is readily available in your online learning portal. This is particularly true for online self-paced and online independent study courses, where you get all of the course materials at the start of the course to be reviewed when possible.

8. Develop Great Self-Discipline

Because online courses can be largely self-paced, it will be up to you to make sure that assignments are completed properly, accurately and on time. While many online learners are adults who have solid time management skills, online courses are a great way to improve your self-discipline and brush up on organizational skills. After all, further education is an investment, and the best way to get the best return on that investment is by doing well in the course.

How to Choose a Reputable Online Course

There are literally tens of thousands of online courses available today, which can make finding a high-quality program difficult. During your search, make sure you do your homework and do the following:

  • Only enroll at an accredited institution, which will typically be a college or university. Accreditation occurs on a regional, national and programmatic basis, but most public and private four-year colleges are accredited by one of the seven regional accreditation bodies that cover the United States.

  • Review national rankings of online learning programs. Popular resources for these rankings include U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review.

  • See if your employer currently has a partnership with a learning institution for online learning courses. This could provide you with a discounted rate for courses or your employer might even cover the whole cost.

  • Research the top programs for your preferred subject or interest area. The same resources that informed your national rankings can also be used to educate you about the top programs for your specific interests.

  • Find a program that fits your schedule, budget and learning style. The good news is that because there are so many options out there, you can surely find a high-quality program that also meets your budgetary and schedule restraints. 

Difference Between a Course, MOOC, Certificate and Degree

Course

MOOC

Certificate

Degree

Single classes that cover a myriad of topics that can be used toward a certificate or degree.

Typically unaccredited, MOOCs are online, free, large-scale online learning programs that cover a wide variety of topics.

A short series of courses, typically taken sequentially, all focused on the same subject or interest area.

A comprehensive program that requires learners to take a number of courses over a set period of time, typically with GPA or minimum-passing grade requirements. 

 

Online courses can help you gain new skills, learn new concepts, advance in your job and even earn a higher salary. But the hardest part is taking the time to find the right program and enroll. If you’re still not sure or are interested in a university with a wide variety of course offerings and areas of interest, consider the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education. Our online course and certificate offerings have helped professionals move up the career ladder or tackle an entirely new career — contact us to learn more.    

FAQs about USD PCE Online Learning Courses

Q: Is the university accredited?

A: Yes. The Division of Professional and Continuing Education is regionally accredited through the University of San Diego by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Q: What are the technology requirements?

A: For USD PCE online courses, it is recommended that students have:

  • High-speed internet

  • Supported versions of Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari

  • Adobe Reader plugin

  • QuickTime plugin

  • Microsoft Office 

Q: What is the learning format for online classes?

A: Online courses are available in online fixed-date, online self-paced, and independent study self-paced formats.

Q: Will I interact with other students and teachers in an online class?

A: Absolutely. Not only will you regularly interact with your classmates and instructors in the online classroom portal, but teachers and instructors will be available to answer questions and will regularly respond to student inquiries via email.

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