Online courses are booming whether for colleges that have all their coursework online or for brick-and-mortar schools expanding their online offerings. Many students hear about online courses and think they sound easy. After all, they involve completing a course in the comfort of one’s own home and on one’s own time. However, online courses are rarely easier than regular classroom courses and often require far more discipline and commitment than offline courses.
In a classroom, instructors frequently take attendance, and the in-person presence of both the instructor and other students can serve as a motivator and keep students from procrastinating. For an online course, even though assignments may be due each week, it can be easy to fall behind. Flexibility does not mean that students can turn in work whenever they want. Without the reinforcement of a class that meets each day or several times per week, it can be easy to become unmotivated and put off work until a student is so far behind that catching up is almost impossible. The student in an online class has a much greater challenge in avoiding procrastination than a student in a regular classroom.
Many online classes will require students to write a great deal more than in an offline class because most class discussions take place over message boards or their equivalent. These posts will be graded by the professor not just on general quality but on spelling, grammar and punctuation. In other words, students will have to keep in mind that the text-speak or other casual language that serves them well while social networking with friends is not appropriate in a classroom. Standards are much higher, and this can present an additional challenge for the online student.
Lack of Interaction
A good online course will encourage students to chat and interact with one another, but even the best efforts cannot replace in-person interaction. Some students may find that being unable to meet up with classmates to study or commiserate affects their performance and makes the online class more difficult.
The Importance of Self-Discipline
In general, an online course will require far more self-discipline and motivation than an offline course because students must put forth more effort to manage time and workload. Students will need to develop strong organizational strategies in order to succeed. A calendar mapping out assignments at the start of the semester as well as goals broken down by weeks are necessary. Furthermore, students will need to set aside sufficient time to complete their work and must not be tempted to put that work off. Scrambling to complete a week of work the night before the new week begins will not work as a long-term strategy.
Online courses can be wonderful educational opportunities for students whose schedules or situations do not permit them to attend classes in classrooms. However, they are generally not easier than in-person classes and are often more difficult. The trade-off is not just the flexibility of online courses but the opportunity to develop better skills in time management and self-discipline that will serve students in every area of life.
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