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The Effectiveness of Online Courses

You’ve seen the commercials. The ads pop up on websites when you’re online. Maybe your friends and family are doing it. As more Americans pursue degrees in higher education, more Americans are turning to online classes. But what are the benefits of online learning?

According to a 2017 federal report for the National Center for Education Statistics , the number of people enrolled in postsecondary education is expected to climb by 15% from 2014 to 2025. But, thanks to technology, the education of the future may look very different than it does now—and it may impact more than high school seniors.

Web-based distance learning is becoming commonplace at universities around the country, further enabling people in remote areas to gain access to educations like those obtainable in more urban areas.

The Digital Learning Compass organization reported in its annual Distance Education Enrollment Report that more than six million higher education students had taken at least one online class in 2015.

But is learning online really best? Here are some benefits of online education, and a few pitfalls to avoid if you’re looking to brush up on your skills with an online class—or a complete online degree, cap and gown and all.

Benefits of Online Classes

More Flexibility

Online students fall under very different demographics than their in-person counterparts. According to US News and World Report , the average person enrolled in an online bachelor program is a 32-year-old adult. Of those people, 84% are also employed either part-time or full-time when they enroll.

Furthermore, this likely isn’t their first attempt at an education. According to the data, the typical online student already has some college credit.

As any adult with employment, a family, and life duties will tell you, attending classes in-person is nearly impossible. This may be why people turn to online classes, which offer flexible schedules, no commute time and can be worked into an already busy life.

Faster Completion Time

Typically, traditional schools offer semester or trimester-long classes. However, online programs can start and end any time. Many programs offer eight-week courses with options to start each month.

This means an online student could theoretically complete the same degree as an on-campus student in about half the time—a potential necessity for the aforementioned busy adult looking for a career change.

Potential Lower Cost

While online classes can cost less than in-person courses, a student can also save on all the extras that come with traditional education. For example, an online student may well be completing his or her education from home and would be able to save on room and board.

No dorm means no expensive meal plan. And without having to leave the comfort of their home, an online student saves on commuter costs as well.

Access to More Learning Possibilities

Many public and private colleges now offer online classes to both matriculating and non-matriculating students. But beyond universities, there are a plethora of online learning options available.

Websites like Lynda offer a number of classes to further hone skills like photography, graphic design and coding, to name a few. Skillshare brings in real-world experts to teach mastery-level classes in everything from email marketing to music mixing. If there’s a topic you’d like to learn more about, odds are you can find a class for it online.

Disadvantages of Online Classes

No Face-to-Face Time

This one may be a deciding factor for those debating between an online versus traditional education. With online classes, you’ll likely have little-to-no face time with your instructor or classmates, which may mean your classes will lack a conventional class dynamic and you won’t be able to build a rapport with other students or your instructor, or get your questions answered.

However, if you’re proactive, many instructors still make time for “office hours” where you can have a Skype session or phone call to go over all your questions, and online class discussion forums help create that classroom environment where you can get to know and share ideas with your peers.

Not All Majors Are Available

Despite the proliferation of the internet, online learning is still fairly new. That means that not every major is available for online coursework. But with so many prestigious colleges and universities offering online degree programs , you’ll likely be able to find something to fit your educational goals.

Online coursework may be easier to find if you’re looking into the health profession. According to US News and World Report , 31% of students pursuing online degrees are studying something in the health profession or a related field. An additional 30% are studying business and 8% are studying liberal arts. So much of your decision may depend on what you’re looking to do.

Requires Sincere Self-Discipline

This one is on you: If you’re going to learn online, you’re going to need self-discipline. Not every teacher will be taking attendance. Nobody is following up with you if you miss class or don’t do your work. This entire learning environment is your doing, so make it count.

An online education still requires a financial commitment, just like an in-person traditional education. Fortunately, there are ways to make a plan to tackle any student debt before your first class even starts.

Financing Your Education

If you’ve already taken out student loans and are now working to repay them, consider looking into student loan refinancing with SoFi. If you qualify for refinancing, you may be able to lower the interest rate on your loan and change your repayment term.

Lengthening your repayment term could lower your monthly payment, but increase the interest you pay over the life of your loan. Shortening your repayment term or lowering your interest rate could mean saving money on interest and getting out of debt sooner.

See if you can refinance your student loans with SoFi and potentially lower your interest rate. Check your rate online in two minutes!

Find My Rate

The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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