Drawbacks To Taking An Online Academic Course

Higher education now features many Internet-based courses that fit into your schedule at your convenience. But there may be obstacles.

Many colleges and universities continually search for ways to make higher education more accessible to potential students. One relatively recent innovation is the implementation of online courses, which means that a student can access course lectures, readings, and exercises on the Internet from home rather than a traditional classroom.

While this approach provides convenience for many students who prefer to work through course material at their own pace and avoid the hassles of campus parking as well as classroom time, other problems can surface to block effective learning in online classes. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Instructors will not be on hand to answer questions. Yes, they're just a click away via email, but it's not the same as having a living, breathing body share the same classroom space and be able to ask questions of during a break or after class. Many online lectures are visual rather than aural, which means that students reading through a lecture can miss out on facial expressions, verbal cues, gestures, and voice tones to enhance or enrich the meaning of the ideas. Receiving print feedback in an email response is not quite the same as asking a question face-to-face with your instructor. Again, you may find yourself spending time trying to decipher the teacher's meaning or attitude from a punctuation mark or extra space in an email.

2. The technology can fail. Anyone who has used a computer understands this concern. It's important to frequently back up your written information and assignments to keep from losing them if the system crashes. Depending on whether you have dial-up Internet service or another type, you could be kicked off a busy system at times or have to wait for less busy hours to get connected. Viruses can destroy programs and files, and technical gaffes may mean waiting on a technician's call or visit.

3. There are no students to facilitate peer learning activities. On a physical college campus, students in the same class can decide to form a study group or work on their assignments together. While online class members can do the same, it may take longer to get acquainted with classmates if you only meet online in a discussion forum or course-related chat room. Educational theory recognizes the value of peer learning, so without this helpful service, learning may not be as rich or meaningful.

4. When working at your own pace, it's easy to procrastinate. Online courses often let students complete assignments by certain dates that still provides for flexibility in terms of when to do them. For example, instead of meeting in class every Tuesday at 10 a.m. and turn in a paper every two weeks, you just have to turn in the work, even if you decide to wait to the last minute and stay up the night before to complete an assignment. The quality of the work may be compromised or a technology glitch may keep it from ever seeing the light of day. Accountability and self-pacing are important if you plan to work alone at home.

5. Working alone can isolate a student, making it easy to neglect or even abandon a class. Some students crave social interaction, and lacking it, may fail to get fully connected to class. Instead, they develop other social links and drift away from course duties. This lapse will lead to neglect and even failure. Students who enroll in online courses should plan to seek social fulfillment elsewhere and reserve work time for the course.

Online education is definitely the wave of the future. But until students are prepared to deal with the potential down side of this learning innovation, it may be better to take a traditional classroom course.

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