My first experience with online education was probably like most. My location wasn’t great and I didn’t have the time to travel and be picked up; others may say they have no school in their area or they don’t have the money to attend high school or university. Either way, I bit the bullet in high school when I had to redo two semesters of math in summer school. I attended Clackamas Web Academy, which allowed me to get a higher GPA and get into college later. CWA is different than a regular summer school because it was done completely online, where I could learn and do assignments in the comfort of my own home.
I thought online learning was relatively new and niche, but as it turns out, I was wrong. According to USNews, 6.3 million students attend online courses in college, and Connections Academy says 2.7 million high school students are learning digitally. I thought of several questions: why would this many students do online education over going to a campus? And is it worth it to invest time into learning online?
People have several reasons to use online learning for college, and the two biggest reasons are unsurprising. The first reason is college is too expensive, as the New York Times says in May 20, 2019, the current average amount of college debt a student faces is around “$28,650 per person in 2017” One obvious benefit with online learning is it does not require you to purchase materials outside of the classroom. As BestValueSchools describes, “The average student will typically spend anywhere between $100 to $400 per credit hour. Also, students do not have costs associated with commuting to a college campus.” This is a driving factor for many people, with online learning, college debt is easier to manage and gives breathing room for the student.
The second reason students go to online schools and courses is because of location issues. Some people don’t want to take long drives to campuses, or have no college near them. In an article by ThoughtCo.com, they claim “Students who choose online education save on gas and commuting time. Particularly if you live far from a college campus, these savings can make a major impact on your overall higher education expenses.” Staying at home is less expensive, and doesn’t disrupt anyone’s daily lives. A Forbes article describes why people are taking online industry classes, saying: “Taking an online course from a big brand business school doesn’t require weeks or months of studying for a standardized test. You can do it without having to quit your job or make long sacrifices of time from your family.” Anyone in the US can get an online education as long as they have decent internet.
A former online educator, Sean Davis, who taught at the University of Massachusetts, Mt Hood Community College and Clackamas Community College, was asked what were the benefits of online education to students and educators. “They like to have online stuff because, you know, just everybody has a computer at their house and that lets them get to the curriculum or the program. As they have time.” The convenience of online learning is appealing to college students and K-12 students, and the college debt is significantly less. Another benefit for students is the time spent in their work as Davis describes: “Well I guess the main benefit would be that students can take the curriculum, as they have time, you know a lot of us are working multiple jobs and trying to figure out how to go to college as well. Honestly, my MFA was low residency (…) You’re only there for 10 days out of six months, so that allowed me to have a full time job, and a family while I was in school so I can see the benefit of that.” Online education is not intrusive to people’s lives and people’s current jobs. People have the ability to multitask a course and hold a steady job at the same time.
However, no system is without its flaws, and online education has a few minor ones. When asked about the drawbacks of online education, Davis responded with: “I think the biggest drawback for students in a community college level is that they see online classes being a very easy way to get a good grade, which it’s not at all. In fact, you have to do just as much work if not more.” Online classes are not a shortcut to getting a degree or credit; it’s convenient, but is also time consuming. The reason for there being so much personal time is due to a lack of interaction between students and educators as Davis explains: “And another benefit of actually going to school and not doing an online class is if you have questions about the material you can ask right away. (…) So somebody has questions I’m teaching like Catch 22 which has like 500 main characters in it, and they want to know like who, you know, Colonel Cathcart is or who major major is as opposed to you know some other character they can just ask me online. That might not translate well, if they’re trying to ask me through email because most online teachers aren’t available to actually take phone calls, you know, some do, I did, but many don’t, because that means that as an online teacher you’re getting phone calls at, you know, all hours of the night every day.” The discommunication may make learning harder for students, and harder for teachers to elaborate. However, people may still need this kind of education overall based off of their location and financial situation, as previously stated.
By this point it is easy to see why students flock to online learning, so is it worth it in the long run? Several online learning centers provide courses and experts in several academic fields. One of these schools is Udemy, an online educational service that provides courses targeted at adults. According to RiseSmart.com, “Udemy offers over 65,000 courses” and covers a variety of topics with teachers of all fields and experience. However, that leads into its biggest problem. The article also mentions: “because Udemy enables content creators to sell for profit, most of the online instructors are not fully qualified.” An article from HardWorkingClub.com, claims, “Udemy doesn’t offer courses accredited by educational institutions. Some other online course providers such as as eDx and Coursera do.” Without recognition from the department of education, Udemy is a skill learning website, and not a full college experience, which may seen unpleasing to student and employers.
One school that is accredited is Devry University, a for profit school which has online classes. GetEducated.com says the school is accredited and can give diplomas for highschoolers. Devry even provides a page of their accreditation from the ACBSP on their website, for accounting, business, managing, ect. However, what has yet to be mentioned is Devry’s history of lawsuits, like in 2016. In an article from CNN, Devry U had used false statistics saying there is a 90% of grads found jobs since 1975: “The FTC found this to be “deceptive,” and the college is now required to notify current and prospective students about the unsubstantiated claim.” So it may seen that online education is not professional or it is tied to a shady corporation or institution, however, there are online education institutions that are accredited. West Governors University is a multi campus institution, founded by 19 state governors as a non-profit school since 1997. As TheBestSchools.org shows, the college is accredited by “The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).” Their teachers are also accredited by the “Northwest Commission for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).” The school also has several courses for graduates and undergraduates for online education, which is probably good news for a student, along with the previously mentioned benefits. WGU is not the only university either, there are several others with similar professional backgrounds, which also provide online classes.
From the benefits and the three colleges mentioned, it seems like a mixed bag for students. On the one hand, they have skill services, and on the other they also have colleges that can potentially be shady, or by contrast, widely accredited. If there is one thing that can be said, it’s to always look at all the facts of a college, online or otherwise. Online colleges are viable, people just have to find the right ones, but now with the internet, websites and organizations that show college accreditations are easier to access, and the history of a college can help make an informed decision.