How Do I Know If Online Learning Is Right For You

Online learning can have mixed results and only works when you take the time to get organized.

When I taught undergraduate English at the University of Central Florida in 2015, my students had low SAT scores. However, as one of their biggest concerns for their education, they told me “that I’ll learn how to be an author,” which is something I rarely received for my undergraduate classes, where the professor already has a degree and sometimes a professional degree, thanks to the history of journalism.

Yes, there was a self-selecting factor to these students, but when they said that, I knew something was going on: They didn’t just want to get good grades in college. They wanted to push themselves, and they hoped to be able to do the first thing they’d ever written: A book.

I know this is a different world from what college was like, where biology, history, art history and English were not necessarily the first things students picked for their graduation projects. These days, we’re paying more attention to data and “return on investment,” as the motto goes. We’re becoming more and more statistical, more and more data-driven, more and more data-driven. In this context, online learning is business of the future, especially with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

For instance, we all have college friends who have a stellar GPA, but they think their coursework is not serious enough to earn them a degree. They cannot see themselves graduating college, no matter how promising they are in their majors. These are the people who would probably be ideal MOOC students.

For them, online learning is the perfect ticket to earning a college degree.

So, in this world of high-stakes online education, it’s important for you to figure out if this is actually a good fit for you.

“Conventional wisdom is that online programs are not for you unless you’re an expert in certain areas or you’re bored with other methods,” explains Matt Hirshland, the chief executive officer of Coursewire, an online learning platform that connects students and professors. “People who go on to belong to a technology-centric company are rarely the types who would be great for an online program. We find that the people who are great for online are usually ones who are interested in their careers right now, they’re looking to get their foot in the door, but have decided they don’t want a traditional college experience.”

Let’s take psychology. This field is almost entirely dead on the campuses of America’s best universities, which is why a student doesn’t go to one and earn his or her doctorate in this field without earning at least a 2.0 grade-point average. However, suppose there were a way for psychologists to earn a master’s and then go out and teach online, earning a better GPA, while also doing important work in the field.

In other words, what if you could make online learning your big departure point from the traditional path of your humanistic career, earning a bachelor’s degree in social work, a master’s in psychology, while still working, under the guise of simply going on a side job? Sure, that’s a lot of work, but would you do it? Would it be worth it?

In this world of high-stakes online education, it’s important for you to figure out if this is actually a good fit for you.

The one type of student who has a great record of success using online courses is ambitious millennials, who are in the habit of moving forward on their own. They want to make their mark. Online education can make that possible, but they must be willing to break rules like doing their coursework under the alias “Nova.” Many of them think it’s perfectly fine for them to do so.

Traditional education has been the bulwark against our generation’s dangerous tendency to follow guidance into an abyss, but a traditional education is no longer a foolproof defense against rapid change. It’s time to break those mold, and more and more schools are recognizing this as they introduce new classes online, as this infographic illustrates.

As for our liberal arts classes, they will not crumble like an oak tree in the name of corporate-America nirvana. But if you want to go for it, and if you know you’re at a great place in your career trajectory, then there are reasons to put online education to the test.

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