Online college courses provide the convenience of attending classes at a time and schedule that fits your personal lifestyle and work schedule. With an increasing number of colleges providing full online degree programs, the Web-based college course provides an attractive option for time-constrained students. Students taking online courses also don't have to factor transportation costs into the real cost of attending school. Despite the many advantages of Web-based courses, students considering this option must also understand the potential pitfalls.


Students that attend a traditional on-site college course don't need to have the reliable technology to access courses. Students taking online courses require a reliable and stable Internet connection. Instructors often recommend coming to the university to take tests and quizzes using school computers, especially when timed. Assignments submitted a few seconds late may result in a failed grade and the student may lose his work completed.


While on-site college courses require students to attend class, interact with students and answer questions on the spot, online courses don't provide the same level of interaction. Online courses typically have discussion boards and participation requirements, but they don't usually develop students' verbal communications skills. As these skills are usually necessary for work, the inability to actively debate a topic in class may put students taking online courses at a disadvantage. Interacting with peers in group and collaborative activities provides students with the ability to hone communication skills, discuss and network with fellow classmates.


Students taking tests and quizzes online are generally not required to memorize the same information as students taking an on-site course. Learning management systems are designed with safeguards to prevent students from using a browser to look up answers. However, cheating is still possible with the increasing speeds of wireless connections and improved mobile devices. The temptation to look up an answer to a question may provide a disincentive to students that traditionally would have memorized the information.

Organization and Time Management

Poorly organized students may receive lower grades due to an inability to properly manage time. Traditional college classes have regular schedules that require students to complete work by a specified time. Online courses often have open-ended submissions deadlines that require effective time management skills. Learning management systems also take time to learn how to properly navigate, configure and use. Students that don't make online coursework a priority find that other life events tend to get in the way of schoolwork. Interruptions by family and friends are minimized while attending class on campus. When studying at home, students often find that it becomes easy to get distracted.


The Babson Survey Research Group conducted a 2012 survey dealing with the quality of online learning. The study found that a slight majority of instructors experienced more fear than excitement about the increase in availability of online courses, with administrators showing an overwhelming excitement. Faculty interviewed for the survey expressed concern that the quality of online instruction was inferior to on-site courses, with only 6 percent of teachers stating that online instruction was superior to on-site instruction. The study suggests that administrators enjoy the prospects of the less expensive and more lucrative online instruction formats. Meanwhile, the high level of instructors that doubt the quality of online education suggests that more investment and research may be required to match the quality of on-site instruction.

Hidden Costs

On-site courses require the purchase of books and supplies that often mirror the materials required of the student taking an online course. In addition to the standard supplies and textbooks, students taking online courses must have access to the technology required for each course. Some students that don't have newer technology or lack the means to obtain the necessary technology may find themselves barred from online education. Online courses may require the additional purchase of hardware such as a microphone or video camera. Special software and operating system requirements may force a student to purchase new computers and install software that wouldn't be necessary in a traditional course.

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