The Good and the Bad of Taking Online Courses

March 16, 2015

Technology has come to the classroom, or – maybe more to the point – technology is moving people out of the classroom. There is an explosion of online courses, whether included in a college degree program, or as part of continuing education. There’s good and bad in taking online courses, but either way, they offer an excellent alternative to traditional classroom based courses.

The Good of Taking Online Courses

Having taken a few online courses myself, I’m a big fan of them. Here’s what I’ve found to be the biggest advantages.

You can take them from home. Since home is where you are most comfortable, it could also be the perfect environment for learning. After all, it’s most likely the place where you’d be doing your homework, so why not also take the course from home?

No on campus or commuter expenses. If you’re taking college courses, there’s usually a fee associated with taking it on campus. And even if there isn’t, you will still have the cost of commuting to and from the school. Since you can take online courses at home, there will be no campus fees, and no commuter costs. Not to mention wear-and-tear on your car, or the time and aggravation of spending time commuting either long distances or in heavy traffic.

They’re easier to fit into a busy schedule. Since you have control over when you take an online course, it will be less of a scheduling challenge. You can take it any time of the day, evening or even weekend that you want. And if you’re a night owl, you can even do it at night when the rest of the world is asleep. In fact, you can take online courses any time it’s convenient for you. That will allow you to build the course around your life, rather than being forced to build your life around the course, as you would have to do with an on-site course.

You can work at your own pace. This will allow you to spend less time on less challenging course material, and to linger longer on areas you’re struggling with. That arrangement will probably make it easier for you to master the course work. If you are moving particularly fast, you can even decide to complete the coursework early.

They’re a godsend if you learn best on your own. Some people learn more easily through self-study. It may have to do with the previous benefit of working at your own pace. If you are the type who can master a course without oversight, online courses will work better for you.

They work especially well with easier courses. Some courses lend themselves better to self-study, so online courses may be a way to lighten your schedule by taking the easier courses that you can blow through in less time and with less effort.

The Bad of Taking Online Courses

Alas, taking online courses isn’t a perfect situation, and certainly not for all people. Here is some of the bad side of taking online courses.

You have to be self-motivated. As in really self-motivated. Not everyone is capable of keeping pace in a learning environment that’s less structured. As well, the fact that it’s done from home could cause you to underestimate the amount of work that you need to put into the course.

It may not work if time control isn’t your strong suit. Online courses work very well in helping you to juggle a busy schedule, but that’s only if you have the time control thing working in your life. If you don’t, you’ll never have the time needed to make the course work. The casual nature of online courses can make it easy to keep them as a low priority, routinely putting them at the back of your schedule when ever you get busy with other things.

No everyone can learn from self-study. Some people need generous amounts of structure in their learning environment. They need a teacher to set the agenda, impose a schedule, enforce completion of assignments, and provide critical feedback. If this is your learning style, taking online courses could be a complete waste of time and money.

Direct support is limited. More specifically, this means that there’s no teacher readily available for face-to-face meetings on a regular basis. Some students need that more than others. If you’ve ever taken an online course, you’re probably aware that direct support is no better than limited. It’s usually email support, or very limited telephone contact, and it’s not always easy to come by.

There are no classmates to “compare notes with”. Some people learn better in group environments. Not only does it create a kind of synergy to feed off of (think study groups), but it also gives you a chance to work with other students when you miss an assignment or need extra help on a one-on-one basis. Depending on the type of course you’re taking and where you live, there may be no one else taking the course within hundreds of miles of where you live.

It’s easy to let online courses slip. For any of the above reasons, it’s entirely possible that you might simply let the course slip. You may get busy with other things, find that you can’t learn in an informal setting, or simply get hung up on certain course work, then quit the course.

Online courses aren’t for everyone. But they can be a real advantage if you understand all that’s involved and are prepared to make them work.

Have you taken online courses? What has your experience been?


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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2 Responses to The Good and the Bad of Taking Online Courses

  • Chelsea @ Broke Girl Gets Rich

    A few years ago, I got two different certifications online: Teaching English as a Foreign Language & Teaching Business English.

    I got them because I’d caught the travel bug & wanted to continue traveling, but the great thing about the school I chose (besides studying at your own pace and offering a great price) was that it had a huge network of schools it was affiliated with all over the world – even here in the US.

    Because of it, I almost immediately landed a great starter position as an English teacher near NYC, which will translate really well if I ever decide (or need to) teach English in order to live somewhere.

    I love the way online courses like this let you optimize your career path and goals on the fly.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      Hi Chelsea – You’re an excellent example of what can be done with online courses. You’ve used them to open up whole new opportunities in your life. That’s what we all need to concentrate on.