These days, you can do just about everything online. You can buy groceries, find a date, file your tax returns, and even become a reality TV star online. So why not go to school online?

Online learning has been viewed with suspicion, the same way people view those diploma mill ads at the back of glossy magazines. Graduating from a respected college just isn’t the same as getting mailed a certificate after parting with your credit card details on some website. And because it’s still new, a lot of people might not really know what to expect, of course.

pros and cons of online learning can range from getting a university degree online to a short course in how to use a word processor to an online training module for work. Whichever road you’re thinking of going, there are pros and cons to it.

The Pros

– One reason to go online route is that you’re already working and just don’t have the time to attend classes in person. You want to pick up new skills, but you can’t take time off work. Learning online means that you don’t have to waste time getting to and from classes and also means you aren’t limited by your location.

– Online learning is often (although not always) cheaper than learning in a classroom. As a little bonus, it’s also a little easier on the environment, especially if all the materials are in soft copy.

– Online learning is within the reach of people who might not normally be able to attend classes. For example, students with disabilities may find it easier to have classes online. Older students might feel also more at ease online than attending classes on campus.

– Although online learning has been criticized for its lack of face to face interaction, surprisingly, online discussions can get even more involved than in the classroom. Shy students who wouldn’t normally speak up in front of their classmates may join in more online as it gives them a chance to think about their responses. Learning is all the time as it is not limited to scheduled classes.

The Cons

– The most common complaint about online learning is that there’s no face-to-face interaction. Learning online can lack the spontaneous exchange of ideas that you can only get with classmates and a teacher in real time and space. Although you can still interact by chatting and emailing, it is harder. Something which could be made clear in a minute in person might take the effort of several emails going back and forth.

– Online learning can be technology dependent. You might need high-speed internet access to be able to watch learning videos or download necessary files. If something goes wrong with your computer, it is just that much easier to miss out on a class or a deadline.

– The drop-out rate for online classes is actually quite high. Being able to get through an online class requires a lot of discipline. People are motivated by being able to socialize, compete, and perform in front of others. Without these factors to push you, you may end up wasting your cash by not finishing the class.

When it’s most effective

Considering the pros and cons of online learning, it is probably most effective when it can bring together the best elements of classroom learning and online technology. For example, you can go for a course where you would have the chance for interesting discussion with people all over the world. Or take a short training module at work where you can review the materials with colleagues later.

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