Demand for online education appears to be growing in leaps and bounds, as evidenced by the increase in the number of students enrolling for such courses.
And as more economies ride the digital transformation wave, it’s not difficult to understand the growing popularity of e-learning. For those concerned with costs, online learning allows you to get an accredited degree without the need to spend on travel and accommodation.
It also supports the concept of lifelong learning as it means adult learners need not leave their schoolgoing kids behind just to gain another academic achievement.
These are among the many reasons why the trend is catching on worldwide.
According to the Grade Increase report by the Babson Survey Research Group, in the US, “Distance education enrolments increased for the fourteenth straight year, growing faster than they have for the past several years.”
The report highlights that “the number of distance education students grew by 5.6 percent from Fall 2015 to Fall 2016 to reach 6,359,121 who are taking at least one distance course, representing 31.6 percent of all students.”
Meanwhile, iResearch notes that China’s online education market is projected to grow to US$39.39 billion in 2019, from US$22.6 billion in 2016 – a staggering 74 percent increase.
While online learning can provide students the convenience of time and distance flexibilities, as well as learning styles, how do you know if it’s the right move for you?
Here are four things to consider before enrolling in an online degree programme.
The quality and legitimacy of your programme and institution
Before you enrol, it is essential to check if the programme and institution you are interested in are accredited. Otherwise, you might find yourself spending thousands of dollars on a course that is not legitimate.
Speaking to US News & World Report, Susan Aldridge, a senior fellow at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities said: “Accreditation doesn’t guarantee quality, but does provide more assurance that there is oversight regarding the instruction and their authority to issue degrees.”
Checking an institution’s accreditation can be tricky; one way is to do some online digging to find out which are the relevant bodies of the country’s institutions to refer to for accreditation.
For example, if you are enrolling in an American programme, one of the platforms you can use to check if your institution is accredited is the US Department of Education (USDE).
The learning environment
Not unlike brick-and-mortar universities, the courses offered by online institutions will also vary from one to the other.
Some online courses are 100 percent online, while some may require you to be onsite for a certain period or provide the option for you to also enjoy face-to-face learning, so it’s best to check with your institution before enrolling.
Other considerations include finding out how interactive the course will be, such as whether you will have opportunities to interact with your lecturers and coursemates through email and discussion boards, among others. You may also want to check if you have access to its campus facilities, such as the library.
If possible, it is worth asking if you can have a trial course to help you decide if the online programme is something you will enjoy.
Just because your education is held via the internet does not necessarily mean it will be cheaper than studying on campus.
Online degrees can still cost in the thousands of dollars while some institutions list the cost per credit hour for the current academic year instead of per term, which may not include other fees such as textbooks and other expenses needed for the course.
Do your homework and find out how much your degree would cost, along with other considerations, such as how much you will need to spend for high-speed internet at home to access your course materials.
If cost is a factor, you will be pleased to hear that some distance learning providers offer scholarships. For example, Pennsylvania State University has a Penn State World Campus Scholarships for their World Campus (online campus) students.
The motivation and discipline to study on your own
Online learning offers a flexible learning environment for you to schedule your studies around your routine or lifestyle, but do you have the motivation and discipline to commit to your studies?
To succeed in your course, you will need to have excellent time management skills – this means balancing your studies with your other commitments despite the self-paced nature of the course.
To boot, if you are studying from home, you will need to fend off distractions such as your pets and have the willpower to avoid procrastinating on your work in favour of more “fun” activities, such as catching on your favourite TV series.
If in doubt, online learning may not be an ideal fit for you.