Before we start, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room. I think online courses are great. So much so I recently wrote an article called "12 Reasons Why Online Courses Are Great". That said, while writing that piece, I realised that online courses are not for everyone and do not suit every situation. So here are five reasons why online learning might not be the best approach for you.
1. Online Course Are No Substitute For A University Degree.
If you have chosen a career that requires a graduate degree, then an online course is not an adequate alternative. There are many professions where the minimum entry requirement is a bachelors degree.
These tend to be more traditional professions, such as lawyer, engineers, doctors, and scientists. However, there are also many professions where a degree, while not essential, is looked upon favourably. While you could probably get a start in IT just by having the right IT certifications, having a degree might open the door to more opportunities. It may also allow you to start higher up the ladder and on a better salary.
Employers do not want to take risks when hiring staff. In professions where a degree is not mandatory, it gives potential employers a sense of security. It demonstrates you have attained a level of knowledge and met specific standards in achieving a degree. It allows you to stand out from the crowd.
What About Online Degrees?
Platforms, such as Coursera and EdX, now offer complete degree programs. In many ways, these online degrees are identical to the traditional on-campus university programs. Undoubtedly they will require the same level of effort and study time. They may even one day become more popular than attending university. They are cheaper and offer convenience. However, until online degrees become more prevalent, employers may be inclined to look upon them unfavourably.
2. Interaction & Collaboration
One of the great rewards of attending university or college is the friendships you make. Friendships forged at uni often continue through adulthood. By their very nature, online learning platforms make it harder for students to get to know each other, to discuss ideas and collaborate on coursework.
Platform vendors have tried to address this by creating forums and lecturers encourage group discussion and participation. However, it's clearly a problem. A recent question on Quora asked, "How can the Coursera platform be improved?" The overwhelming majority of answers highlighted group collaboration and discussion as a limitation.
To be successful discussion forums need to be continually moderated to keep conversations both on topic and flowing. Many of the discussion forums on platforms such as EdX, Coursera and Udemy are empty because no can be bothered to post and those that do, their comments go unanswered.
3. Lack of feedback/advice
This difficulty in interacting with fellow students extends to communicating with lecturers. Unlike college where you can book an appointment with your lecturer, there is no such option with online courses.
If you pay for a course, you will receive feedback on your assignments, but lecturers will rarely participate in the discussion forums. Lectures are also prerecorded, so there is no opportunity to ask a question during a class.
4. Perseverance and motivation
One issue that is not the fault of the platform is motivation. With an online course, progress is entirely dependent on your level of commitment. Many course platforms do not set a deadline for completion. You can take as long as you need.
Not having to attend set classes or meet pre-defined deadlines removes the need to commit to continual study. For this reason, studying online requires a level of self-discipline, which can be challenging for many people. While we all start out with good intentions, maintaining our motivation can be difficult.
If you struggle with self-discipline, you might be better off attending classes in person and taking courses that have a set timetable. Having set weekly lessons and an end-of-term exam helps focus the mind. A bit of pressure is not always a bad thing.
5. Quality of Teaching
There are now a plethora of platforms offering online courses. While this helps to keep their prices competitive, it can also have the effect of diluting the perceived quality of the courses. If Coursera, Udemy and Skillshare are all offering the same course, which one should you choose and which one looks best on your resume?
EdX and Coursera only provide courses from recognised institutions so that you can be confident about their level of tuition. Udemy is slightly different in that anyone can upload a course to their platform. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Courses on Udemy tend to be shorter and teach specific skills, such as using Adobe Photoshop. In contrast, Coursera and EdX offer broader courses such as graphic design or anatomy.
Regardless, you should be cautious of platforms that allow anyone to upload courses to their site. Read the lecturer's bio and read other students' reviews to determine whether it's worth your time and money.