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Online College Courses May Be the Future of Education, But There are Costs

If you asked me when I started college in 2004 if I would take an online course, I would have flat out refused. When I heard about some friends who had just gotten their Masters degrees online, I instantly doubted their credibility. Anytime someone uttered the words, “I’m taking classes online,” I cringed, especially if it was a for-profit school. When I watched the PBS Frontline Special College Inc., my blood boiled.

Perhaps I was a little resentful considering I spend a large portion of my day commuting to college from a different city, sitting through lectures, participating in study groups and actually speaking with my professors after class. College wasn’t just something I did while checking my email. It was a full time job that took up most of my life when I wasn’t working late nights in a restaurant. There are so many valuable things I learned from interacting face to face in discussion groups and presenting papers in front of class. When I hear of people taking a public speaking course online, I think, "How?" Presenting my research made me a better public speaker. There is no way you can learn that skill without actually doing it.

I have taken three courses online. In these cases, I had no choice but to take them in this manner because it was all that was offered. While I learned from the classes, I felt in the end that I would have done better had it been in a traditional instructional setting. The lack of human interaction hindered my learning capability. We are social creatures.

But there are studies that state students learn just as well, if not better, in “hybrid courses” where online assignments are paired with one hour of in-class instruction per week. This seems like an effective way to take classes if you already have a full time job or family to devote time to. With technology becoming more accessible to the masses, the online education option seems to fit lifestyles that may have been previously unable to attend school in person, including older working adults and people from low socio-economic backgrounds.

My attitude began to slightly shift when I entered the social work field. My clients ranged from people who could not read to people who were in college. Sometimes they would tell me they have decided to enroll in community college. In fact, some of them told me “I’ve decided to take classes online.” My initial reaction was to say, “don’t bother,” but the deeper I dove into my field, the more I began to realize that the lack of transportation is a hindrance to traditional education. I found myself conflicted; I was proud of them yet I knew that some of the for-profit schools “prey on unsuspecting students to rake in federal financial aid.”

All in all, it seems that online education brings college courses to a wider audience. However, how would you like to be represented by a lawyer or counseled by a therapist who received their degrees online?

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