25 July 2008

Going Back to School, Online

Boomer women make good online students. Most of my online students have been women of the baby boom. If there is one word that describes them and their commitment to their studies, it is appreciation. They appreciate having access to education. It is the online format that permits them to return to school while maintaining family and work responsibilities. Almost always, the degree is for a career change or career enhancement.

The third shift: For most online students, school work is accomplished on their third shift. First shift: the day job. Second shift: house, kids, and family in the evening. Third shift: online course work in late night. Sacrifices are made in time and tuition dollars but students typically tough it out, happy in the knowledge that were it not for online access, they would not be able to take courses.

What's not so positive: Most non-traditional students (age 25 and older) are determined to succeed. But the realities of online education do not always match their expectations. Below are the common misconceptions. In spite of these challenges, I continue to recommend online courses; I consider the learning to be at least equal to on-campus learning. That means that sometimes the learning is superior.

Online will be easy. But it's not. It is reading- and writing-intensive, with deadlines and a technology learning curve. Every minute you would have spent in a physical classroom will be required for the online course, too. (That doesn't count studying time.)

I can take 4 classes at a time. But you probably cannot and will be better served by the number 1. First semester back in school? First time online? Take 1 course. Do it well and learn how to "do school." Even if you have been in higher ed before, it wasn't online. Online is different.

Online degrees are faster. Only in theory. The "fast track" schedule doesn't mention what happens if you have to drop a class or withdraw for a semester. The most common reasons: falling behind in assignments and a life event of your own or a family member. For the student who doesn't act quickly to drop a class, the degree is derailed by an F and academic probation.

What a slower pace looks like: Assume 39 credits needed (to finish a Bachelor's or to earn a Master's). In most schemes of credit hours, that translates to 13 courses. If the institution offers 3 semesters per year (Fall, Spring, Summer), a "fast track" would work out to 4 semesters (3 courses+3+3+4). A more realistic schedule would be 7 semesters (1 course+2+2+2+2+2+2).

In future, I'll discuss the money and technology costs of online education. ~ Lida

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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