What can you tell me about online college courses?

My academic odyssey continues. After quitting last semester , I am gearing up for the coming Fall.

I am thinking about taking some courses online. If any Dopers have tried this, please let me know what you think.

Pros and Cons I have so far:


  1. I save time and gas.
  2. I can “attend” class on my own schedule.
  3. I am a patriotic citizen of the Procrasti Nation. Without a time and place to be somewhere, I may forget about the class.

Thank you very much! :smiley:

I’ve taught one for the last years, and it’s the best course I’ve taught lately. Most of the assigned work, the way I do it, is to give reading assignments a week in advance of Discussion Boards, and then allow a few days for people to respond in writing on the DB, after which I allow a few more days for responding to other people’s DBs, and followups on the responses, etc.

It seems to work quite well, and my students have expressed the fewest complaints of all my courses as far as demands to hand things in on deadline.

I did the bulk of my master’s degree (library/information science) online and overall I enjoyed it. As you note, you don’t have to commute to campus, nor do you have to attend at any particular time (usually; sometimes my online classes had set meeting times like regular classes). I worked full-time throughout most of the degree, and being able to make my own schedule was often the only way I survived. Plus, attending class in jammies with beer in hand is priceless. :slight_smile:

What I found the hardest was getting to know people. That’s something I’m bad at anyway, and in online classes it’s nearly impossible because there aren’t any opportunities for casual conversation (when I graduated in May, I didn’t know anyone’s face except the department office staff!) My professors often assigned group projects to help overcome this barrier, but doing a group project via chat is stupid at best. However, if you just want the degree over with, then this part doesn’t matter so much.

Also difficult, and also as you noted, was putting any real effort into the classes. I would put off the reading until tomorrow, and tomorrow, because I could, and then a whole week had gone by and I was behind. I’m a terrible procrastinator, and learning online only exacerbated this for me. I found keeping a day planner with all of the work I had to do in it helped a lot in this regard, because I could see everything I wasn’t doing.

The other thing is that online courses tend to be more work than regular ones. In addition to reading the lectures, preparing questions on the lectures, doing the assigned reading, and doing the assignments, my professors all expected that I would check in and post to the discussion boards daily or every other day, which takes more time and effort than just attending a regular class. The assignments also tended to be more difficult and time-intensive than regular classes.

One advantage to online is that you get a lot of practice composing emails and postings, which these days is a real job skill that surprisingly few people have.

In short, I wouldn’t do it just because it’s there. I would only do it if online offers a real advantage for you over traditional. My school recommends that students new to online courses take only one their first semester and do the rest traditional, just to get the feel of it, and after that, do whatever mix of online/traditional seems appropriate to you. From what I’ve seen, that’s a pretty good way to do it.

I have a hard time keeping up in online courses. The first couple of weeks I’ll zoom ahead of the schedule, then slack for a couple of months, then realize that I’m about out of time and cram like mad to get caught up again.

If you are good with time management and goal setting/keeping, you might do better than me.

Thank you pseudotriton ruber ruber and fuffle!

Its good to see both sides of this process. :cool:

I would rather do traditional classes, but the courses I need to take in the fall clash with my work schedule. An online course is my only option. (As an non-traditional student I feel like an academic untouchable, but I’ll spare you that rant.)

I’ll chime in. My degree I’m earning is 100% online.

Here’s a few points.

  1. It’s not easier. If anything, it’s a bit tougher since you never meet in person. My courses don’t have lectures or class discussion(except the message board), so you just have to read a lot of journals and write papers.

  2. Having said it isn’t easier, I don’t feel most professors try to increase the difficulty just to compensate for the fact people think it will be easier. I was worried it’d be virtually impossible, but it hasn’t been.

  3. It’s very hard to do group work. Since you never meet, you rely on email for all communication. I’ve had good luck with quality people. Mine is a Master’s degree for teachers so most people are pretty reasonable. Having said that, there is always a risk of some loser really negatively affecting your group.

  4. As said by others, you have to be studious. You must check into your course at least every day, sometimes several times. For my online courses, if you fall behind, you can’t catch up. No late assignments.

I haven’t done one that was a degree track - more a course here, a course there to see if I’m interested enough in the subject to actually go full time (so far, the answer has been, “not quite” but I have picked up some interesting pieces of information on the way)

Even though I am a procrastinator (I respond to deadlines - I have sent assignments in at 5:56am that were due at 6am), they work well for me. I didn’t have to worry about getting to class on time, or making sure I had all the right materials when I did. It fit well in the way I like to learn - read, do the assignment, ask questions if necessary, discuss with other students if I wanted to(all of the online classes I’ve taken have had a bulletin board - some had required participation).

It’s obviously not for everyone, but it’s not an automatically bad option.

fuffle, it’s understandable if you don’t, but would you mind telling which MLIS program you did? That’s something I’m interested in and doing it online would be great. Did you like them?

No, I don’t mind at all. I went through the University of Arizona and on the whole I would recommend it to others.

The program is respectable and is getting stronger. It has its roots as a vocational program, which means you get a fair number of working paraprofessionals who just want a piece of paper so they can get a promotion. But the program director is smart, thoughtful, and ambitious and she is pushing hard to make the program much stronger academically. I took 2 1/2 years to get through, and there was noticable improvement just in my time.

The classes were mostly pretty good, although there were a few duds. One thing they like to do is bring in experts over the summer to teach special interest courses, which is very cool. They also try to create classes based on student interest. Course selection is growing and it’s getting easier to graduate as a real specialist rather than just a generalist.

They’ve responded to the most common complaint, which is students feeling isolated, by instituting a mandatory five-day on-site introductory course, held three times a year. They are also trying to hire young, eager faculty members who want to shake up the profession. The office staff are beyond fantastic and have helped me out of many a jam. The only serious problem they have is that they’re underfunded, so don’t expect buckets of financial aid.

I don’t want to hijack too much, so I’ll stop here, but I’m happy to talk more about it over email if there’s anything else you want to know.

I’ve taken online courses (but I’ve always been in proximity to the campus so I could use the facilities) and I really enjoy it. Everyone starts out at a different knowledge level in the program I take (tech related), so you can pace yourself as you wish - on really basic courses I’ve skipped the notes altogether and went straight to assignments. Plus I had really supportive teachers that were tethered to their computers. Sometimes I’d email them and get a response back faster than if I went to see them in person. Most of my time was spent at campus though, so I knew my classmates and wasn’t starving for companionship. If you’re already isolated and don’t get out much, don’t do it online because you’ll go nuts without the classroom interaction.

I’ve also been on the other side of the fence - for the last two summers I’ve worked in the online learning department at my school. I’m just at the bottom of the totem pole, I proofread and backup courses and things but I do see the process in making the courses. I enjoy dealing with online learning.