Taking courses online can seem like an appealing option for many people looking for more flexibility while they complete their degree or for those who want to continue working while going back to school. However, with so many online college myths and misconceptions to sort through, it may be difficult to figure out whether taking classes online is truly right for you. Below, we break down six of the most common myths about online classes and degree programs.
Myth #1: Online Classes Are Easy
Just because taking classes online provides some additional flexibility in your schedule doesn't necessarily mean they'll be any easier than their traditional classroom counterparts. With online courses, you need to have especially good time-management skills to make sure you keep up to date on readings and assignments, and often the work can require you to be more self-directed, knowing when to reach out to your instructor for help and not being afraid to do so.
Myth #2: Online Courses Aren't Considered "Real Classes"
While the notion of taking an online course may have been less common 10-15 years ago, one of the most significant facts about online college is its growing significance. According to a report from the Babson Survey Research Group, 70.7% of all currently active public colleges and universities offer some selection of online courses, with online classes offered at more than 95% of institutions with over 5,000 students. And it's more than just a current trend: 70.8% of chief academic officers surveyed for the same report indicated that online course offerings were seen as a critical, long-term part of their college or university.1
Myth #3: Credits From Online Courses Won't Transfer
If you're considering taking some classes online, make sure the college is accredited first (which you should also do with traditional brick-and-mortar schools). Beyond the appropriate accreditations, the factors that determine whether credits will transfer from one school to another aren't any different between online and in-person classes.
Just as with courses taken in a classroom, a college or university you transfer to will have their own standards and criteria regarding what credits they are willing to accept—and this can often vary even further by degree program. They typically won't, however, refuse to transfer a credit simply because it's from an online version of a course.
Myth #4: The Quality is Lower
Quality of instruction has more to do with who is teaching a class, the instructional materials used, the time and effort you put into the coursework, and how well the setup of the course is suited to your learning style. Often the same faculty that teach on campus will teach hybrid and online courses, and in many cases, colleges have additional training for those who teach online.
Keep in mind that with online courses, it's especially important that you ask questions and contact your instructor when you need help. While it can be empowering to take so much of the responsibility for your education under your own control, it also means that what you ultimately get from the experience can be more directly tied to your own actions and efforts.
Myth #5: Teachers Won't Be Accessible
If you're taking online courses at a college that also offers classes on a physical campus in your area, you very likely may be able to schedule office hours with your teacher just like any other class. Even if you don't live in the same area that the school is located, online instructors should be easily reachable by email and during online class sessions, as well as at online office hours. Most will also be willing to schedule conferences via phone, chat or Skype.
Myth #6: Online Classes Require Less Participation
The idea that an online course will provide an easy opportunity to sit back and anonymously blend in is one of the most common online college myths. Because students aren't able to discuss lessons and assignments face-to-face in online classes, instructors often use discussion boards and peer feedback groups—and these written interactions can carry even more weight than one's contributions during an in-person classroom conversation.
Ready to learn more? Explore AIU's online degree programs.
1. Babson Survey Research Group, "Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States" (February 2015), on the Internet at http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/gradelevel.pdf (visited November 17, 2015).