Though online education seems to be a modern concept, at heart it’s not so new. It’s based on the correspondence degrees that have been around since at least the mid 19th century. The University of London was one of the first universities to offer a distance learning degree, establishing its “External Programme” in 1858.
So while it may initially seem like a newfangled way to learn, by joining classes online you are actually part of a grand tradition that flowered during the progressive era at the turn of the 20th century. The correspondence degree was founded on the idea that everyone should have access to quality education. So, really, you’re part of a populist movement!
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Of course, today’s correspondence happens at a much faster rate. You don’t have to rely on mail-order phonograph records for your lectures, and Skype can basically put you inside a classroom. But the point is, online education is not slight, nor is it designed solely for a new generation. In essence, it has been around for a long, long time.
The idea that online education is an inferior way to learn is just one of the many myths that get thrown around. Here are seven other online education myths that need to be cleared up as well.
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Myth 1: Online Education is much cheaper than traditional on-campus education.
This is not usually the case. Most often the cost of tuition, classes, and materials have similar costs to those who are taking classes in brick and mortar classrooms. Where the savings usually come are in reduced travel cost from commuting—you can’t beat from the bed to the desk in terms of gas mileage. And your ability to work during school is a big plus. In addition, you avoid (sometimes costly) lab and equipment fees. However, you may have to get a new computer (there are strict rules about operating systems), so make sure to look into that.
Myth 2: Because you can take classes on your own time, it’s easier to keep up.
Not so. Though you have more flexibility with an online class, that same flexibility could make it easier to fall off track. As a distance learner, you likely have a job and family to distract you from your studies, too.
Make sure to manage your time properly. Scour your syllabi and create a large calendar to record every aspect of your academic responsibilities as well as how these relate to unavoidable distractions. Schedule specific study time during the week and do not deviate—turn off the phones, email, etc. And be disciplined. If you mean to begin at 10 a.m., don’t let it slip to 10:15, because before you know it, it’s 10:30 and you’ve found yourself behind the eight ball.
Myth 3: An online degree takes less time than a normal degree.
Again this is not typically the case. It’s the flexibility to study on your own time (and no traveling to school) that makes an online degree more convenient. However, the actual time you put in is the same (if not more so) as traditional classes. You will likely want to devote at least three hours per week per credit hour.
Myth 4: My online degree is just the same as a traditional degree.
This is not always true. Be careful about scam for-profit colleges that will take your money and not give you much in return. Not all sheepskin is from real sheep. The important thing to know is that recruiters have caught on to online “degree factories” and you may find that if you are looking for your degree to enhance your employment possibilities, you’ll be out of luck. In order to avoid being taken in for a sucker, make sure your online school is connected to a reputable university—if possible one that has a brick and mortar school as well. Then there will be no doubt that you received the same degree as any other student.
[Find out what it’s like to learn in an online classroom.]
Myth 5: My online professor doesn’t know what I look like and therefore isn’t paying attention to me.
Online professors are actually very attentive to their students and take their jobs seriously. Don’t think that because you are not in class you can’t engage your professor “after class.” Make sure to interact and stay connected with school.
Myth 6: Online classes eliminate the need for me to “participate” in class.
[Follow these 10 tips for successful online learning.]
Non-traditional students often flock to online education because it means they won’t have to be surrounded by a bunch of kids who might look askance at anyone over 21 taking a college course. The anonymity is comforting and eliminates bias (sexism, ageism, racism, etc.). Also, it’s been shown that international students do very well because language skills won’t get in the way during class. However, it does not mean that participation is nonexistent. You will still need to be part of the class environment, but because participation is usually written, you’ll have more time to consider your answers.
Myth 7: If I’m getting an online degree, there is no reason to try to engage in campus activities or with other class members.
Networking is a large part of academia. In order to use your degree, you will want to interact as much as possible with your classmates. These people, though you may never shake their hands, will become your professional support network after graduation. Find projects to work on together and form study groups even if they have to be online. If possible, meet fellow students in person, and if your classes are attached to a brick and mortar school, see if there is a club or interest group you can join.
Ultimately the online degree process is what you make of it. Appreciate it as you would any academic degree. Don’t belittle it by thinking it will be easy, or cheap, or a way to buck the system. And always consider these two questions: Why are you getting this degree? And are you are doing everything you can to make the most of your educational experience?
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.