Dear Fellow Onliner,

Here's my rendition of the online blues. I know it sounds Pollyannaish, but that's my middle name. I was honest with it. I really do find the course to be a MAJOR convenience for me. Janet R. Schofding (Email:


Online Blues

Factors To Consider Before Taking An Online Class

Having a hard time deciding if you should sign up for that online class? Home-study programs are fast becoming convenient alternatives to traditional college courses for many people. Before you register for that class you need to know that there are things a person can do to insure success and to make the experience of distance learning a more positive one.

Self-motivation, determination, planning, the latest in technological equipment and knowledge of its use, and above all else a positive mental attitude, are a must in making an on-line course fun and exciting. The down side to all of this is if you don't have any, or all of these attributes, an online class can be terribly frustrating. Add to this the human cost. If you are one who doesn't work alone well, are in need of human companionship, and needs others to socialize and to bounce ideas off one another, you may find an online class very alienating.

Before you sign on the dotted line there are certain points to consider when taking a class of this type. Knowing what you're getting into beforehand can make all the difference between success and failure, enjoyment and frustration.

The most important consideration when taking an online class is to make sure the institution offering the course is legitimate. With so many of today's corporations and businesses downsizing and consolidating many adults today have found it necessary to return to school. They are in need of earning a degree that will give them the competitive edge to keep their jobs, help them move up the corporate ladder, or that will help them change careers. Faced with returning to school while holding down a job, raising families, and supporting themselves, many students are looking for affordable and convenient ways of augmenting their education. More and more legitimate institutions are rushing into distance learning as an alternative to traditional classes in the hopes it will give them the competitive edge that will allow them to increase their student enrollment. This paves the way for many bogus schools to advertise online degree programs for less money, less time, and less effort. Buyer beware!

There are ways to find out if the institution offering the online class is legitimate. Mary Lord, in the September 28, 1998, issue of U.S. News and World Reports writes that one should, "stick to schools that have been accredited by organizations recognized by the Department of Education and listed on the Council on Higher Education Accreditation's Web site, . . . Call or write the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general's office to make sure the school is operating legally in a state and to see if anyone has filed a complaint."

Once the legitimacy of the institution is established it's time to consider if the course itself is suited to be taught online. It is obvious that courses such as art appreciation, applied chemistry, or calculus, would lose a lot in interpretation if taught online. The course should provide an acceptable level of learning and training. The credits for the course should be transferable or equivalent to a traditional classroom course.

Beware of online courses that advertise a high price tag with little or no work. You don't want to shortchange yourself or your education. Before you actually start that online class it will be in your best interest to have access to a computer and printer that has internet and e-mail capabilities, preferably one that is in the comfort of your own home. Most online courses require a great deal of actual time spent working on the computer. It would be unfair to your employer and coworkers if you were to try to use the computer you have at work. Besides, you don't need the added discomfort of having to worry about your boss catching you doing your homework on company time. An online course is stressful enough without adding more stress to the situation. You could try using a computer that is available through some university computer labs, by buying computer time at various computer cafes that have recently become popular, or by going to your local library. Keep in mind though that online classes demand a lot of time. If using an alternative computer source--whether paying for computer time or borrowing a computer--the amount of time you spend on the computer will make these alternative sources inconvenient and too costly.

Having the latest in technological equipment always helps taking a course of this nature more convenient. It is as equally important to remember that as convenient as technology makes our lives, when it fails, it can make our lives equally frustrating. Therefore, I strongly advise anyone considering taking an online course to have a backup computer and printer available in case something happens to theirs. Again, sources for these temporary backups could be a work computer, a family member or friend's computer, one rented through a computer lab, or a computer that you use at your local library.


Once you have the computer, make sure you have the proper training and knowledge of its use and the use of its program applications. Know how to access the internet in order to do necessary research for the class. Learn the ins and outs of your computer email program. This is the all-important link between you, your classmates, and your instructor. Completing assignments, interacting with fellow students, and communicating with your instructor, will be easier the more adept you become with the mechanics of your equipment, and the more knowledgeable you gain of your computer's program applications.

From my own experience in taking an online class I suggest that all class correspondences and email between fellow students and the instructor be copied over to a disk for future reference. I went so far as to print out all the information about the class, the class syllabus, and all assignments. I found it much easier to read all the information off a hardcopy rather than from the computer screen. I saved all assignments to the same disk I saved my correspondences on. I then made a backup copy of that disk. I was glad I had done so when a disk error started appearing on my first disk halfway through the course.

Once all of the strategic and technical aspects are taken care of, it is time to consider the mental applications. The most important requirement for success online, as in anything one does, is a positive mental attitude. Either you want to take the class and see yourself successfully completing it or you don't. Taking any college level course involves a certain amount of commitment. An online course involves even more. Because the work in an online course is self-directed, the individual taking a course of this type needs to be highly self-motivated. Within reason, you can set your own timetable as to when you want to work. Your coursework needs to be a priority. By pacing yourself, the coursework can be done conveniently within your own individual schedule. You make the schedule. It is a must that you get all assignments and work done on time. If done properly an online course can offer the individual a certain amount of freedom to set their own priorities and schedule.

The thing that decided it for me to take an online class was the convenience of it all. Now that I am nearing the end of that class I still consider the convenience of taking the class within my own home to be the most important deciding factor for taking the class. The freedom a class of this type allows me is immeasurable. It allows me to set my own pace of work, to set my own schedule, to work within the confines of my own home, and most of all it allows me to be with my family. I have saved countless hours in commute time, which I put towards reading, writing, and researching for the course. I have saved wear and tear on my car from not having to drive the 35 miles to and from the university I attend. I save money and the hassle of finding a child-care provider for my children because I don't have to attend a traditional classroom.

The novelty of taking part in a distance-learning program has served me well. It has been a positive experience for me. This class has afforded me extra time for the coursework itself, as well as for myself and my family. With the right attitude, planning, and computer experience I feel I have been quite successful in taking my online course so far. Any alienation I experienced early in the course has been offset by the convenience and freedom I have gained. You can be sure that if another course of this type is offered through the university I attend, I won't have a hard time deciding if I should sign up!

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