9 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Taking an Online College Course

By Sean | May 20, 2013

Maybe you’ve heard about this whole “online college” thing. Maybe you’re thinking it might be a good option for you. It could be. Research has shown that you’ll learn just as well (and as much) taking classes online versus taking them in-person on campus. But there’s a big “if.” The same research shows that online learning might not be the right way to go for everyone. Is an online education right for you? Ask yourself a few questions…

  1. Do I think the terms “school” and “social life” are interchangeable? If you answered “yes”, you may want to reconsider an online education. It’s not uncommon for your classmates to be logging in from all over the country (if not the world), so the chances of meeting them in-person are slim to none.
  2. When I have a big project like a term paper, do I steadily work on it during the term, or do I wait until the last few days before it’s due to really crank it out? If you’re the type who waits until the last minute, online learning might not be the best idea.  Persistence and self-motivation are qualities you’ll need to succeed online. There aren’t professors or classmates around to nudge you along.
  3. When I wake up in the morning, do I immediately check my calendar to find out what I need to do that day? If you think that calendars only exist to remind you what day it is, the relatively unstructured environment of an online classroom might really tax your potentially-challenged organizational skills. Doing well online requires that you be organized.
  4. When I’m working on a school paper, do I often find myself working late into the night because my  “Facebook breaks” turn into hours of distraction? When you’re in an online classroom, you’re on your own to chat, surf the web, or even play a game whenever you want. If you find it hard to focus one task at a time, online learning can be a challenge.
  5. Do I prefer to do only what’s required for school? Research has shown that “free range learners” (those who like to go above and beyond the requirements and often spend time searching for information beyond what’s been assigned) make excellent online learners.
  6. If my internet connection goes down, do I call someone to fix it or do I try to fix it myself? You don’t have to be a technical genius to be a good online learner, though you do need to know the basics of how to navigate the web, download and open files, and use tools like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. If you’re someone who throws up their hands at technical issues, you may find that the online learning system you’ll use for your online classes could get in the way of learning.
  7. Am I planning on working full time when I go to college? If so, online classes might fit perfectly into your busy life. But if you’re planning to go to college full time and get a part-time job for some extra spending cash, you may want to take the opportunity to live the college life and enjoy everything colleges offer outside the classroom.
  8. Am I drawn to the arts, design, literature, and music? These disciplines traditionally require a lot of in-person interaction and real-time, hands on instruction. Sure it may be possible to learn how to be a painter, a designer, or a concert pianist online, but there aren’t a lot of good examples of it being done.
  9. Am I sure about what I want to do in life? And do I know what I need to do in college to get there? If you’re focused like a laser beam on a particular field, the online environment might be a good match. On the other hand, if you’re interested in a lot of stuff, but not committed to anything in particular, online learning might not give you the opportunity to explore a wide range of options before settling on a major.

No matter how you answered these questions, the ultimate decision is up to you. After all, who knows you better than you? Fortunately, many schools use “hybrid” instruction models, combining both in-person classroom experiences with online discussions. They may also give students the chance to take classes on-campus and online.

Still not sure about online learning? Try it out for free. Sites such as EdX, Coursera, or Udacity offer free online courses from some of the best colleges in the world. You won’t  get official credit for taking these courses (for now, but that may be changing). But you’ll have the chance to learn something new and discover whether or not online learning is something that’s right for you…for free! Not a bad deal.