There is a good chance that at some point in your student’s college career he will have the opportunity to take an online class.  The question is, should he?

There are many appeals to online classes – especially convenience.  Students can complete their entire class without having to go to a classroom or sit through a lecture, and very often, students can complete the work at their own pace and at whatever time of the day or night is convenient.

However, online classes may not be for everyone.  If your student has the option of taking an online class, here are a few questions he should consider before he makes his decision.

  • Are you very good at time management?  The flexibility that is built into many online classes also means that you need to discipline yourself to do the work and to stay on top of deadlines.  It is easy to “forget to go to class” when class simply means spending some time working at the computer.
  • Are you computer literate with a reliable computer and a good internet connection?  In addition to having to master the subject matter, you do not want to spend the majority of your time struggling with technical issues.
  • Are you prepared to spend more time than you might for a traditional class?  In a traditional class, you might sit in class and allow others to participate in the discussion but not contribute if you haven’t read the material.  In an online class, each student is expected to write about each assignment, and then to comment on others’ comments.  You will need to do all of the reading, post comments, and check frequently and comment on other students’ posts.  The amount of time that this takes may be significant.
  • Are you self-motivated and a self-learner?  It is very likely that no one will be reminding you of assignments.  You must be able to read the material or listen to online lectures and reach out to the professor or other students if you need help understanding the material.
  • Are you organized?  You will need to keep track of deadlines, discussion boards, assignments and assessments.
  • Do you have strong reading and writing skills?  Most of the content for an online course may come from reading – a textbook, articles, journals.  And all of your interaction will be through writing.  If you are not comfortable learning through reading and you are not comfortable with careful writing, online may not be for you.
  • Are you good at following written schedules and instructions?  You will not have a professor in front of you in class explaining what to do, you will be expected to read and follow directions.
  • Are you comfortable communicating with your instructors and letting them know what you need?  Your primary way of connecting with your professor will probably be e-mail (although sometimes phone appointments are available).  You will need to write to the professor if you have a problem, a question, or you need help.

Online courses may take varying forms, but the above questions will help your student think carefully about whether or not this format is right for him.