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3 Signs Online Learning Isn’t Right for You

Those with poor time management skills might want to consider an on-campus program.


If a prospective student values face-to-face interaction with a professor, online learning likely isn’t a fit. (SAM EDWARDS/GETTY IMAGES)
When I first decided to enroll in an online bachelor’s degree program three years ago, almost every person I told had a different reaction. These ranged from “Good for you!” to “Are you sure you can handle that while working full time?” and the ever-present “I could never do that.”

Now, as I approach the completion of my program, every time this topic comes up in conversation it seems like many friends, family and co-workers who are already living busy lives feel that online learning is something that might work well for others but not for them personally.

This reaction always seemed odd to me. In my experience, the online learning environment has allowed me to thrive in ways I was never able to in a traditional classroom. I will concede, however, that online learning is definitely quite a departure from the educational experience most students are used to.

From my experience and the conversations I’ve had with others, here are three signs that online education might not be right for you.

1. You aren’t self-disciplined. For me, the flexibility that online education offers has been a huge factor in my success, but it also requires greater self-motivation. There isn’t a professor at the front of the class to keep you enthused about what you’re learning.

[Learn why to develop self-motivation skills before starting an online course.]

Balancing a full-time job with an education, I wouldn’t have been able to stick to a strict schedule of showing up at a lecture hall multiple times each week. Online education forces you to decide on your own when and where you do your work, within the general structure of the course. For some, this lack of a regimented schedule could be a negative, but it allowed me to thrive given my other obligations.

2. Time management isn’t your strength. Most of the online courses I’ve enrolled in have very clear and strict schedules provided the first week of the course, but these usually just outline due dates for assignments. To be successful on a weekly basis, you have to carve out time to complete assignments and stick to your plan.

Every Sunday night, I would look at the assignments due for the upcoming week in each of my online classes. The sheer volume of work can be intimidating, especially as discussion boards and other assignments might replace participation credits you would receive for simply showing up to a traditional course. The only way to manage this effectively is with strong time management.

[Discover four time management tips for online students.]

3. Face-to-face time with instructors is crucial to your learning. In online courses, most of your learning will come from textbooks, articles, videos and online labs, among other materials that have been curated by an instructor but are self-directed.

For me, this meant that if I didn’t understand a concept, I would either have to start a back-and-forth email chain with my instructor or, more often, extend my search to the internet. These methods are definitely a departure from the immediate responses and face-to-face conversations afforded by on-campus education. If you’re not able to be self-directed at least some of the time, and you consistently need a professor’s direct guidance in person, online learning may not be the right path.

The takeaway: Online learning places a tremendous amount of responsibility on a student. If you thrive in an environment of personal responsibility, can stay organized and can juggle multiple assignments at once, then online learning might be a great fit.

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