The Top 10 Myths About Online Learning

Online learning is a popular option among traditional colleges and it is the foundation of for-profit schools. Despite an increase in the number of online courses being offered within all sectors of higher education, some myths persist. From my experience teaching classes (online and on-ground), students often have developed pre-conceived ideas that are based on their prior experiences, stories they’ve heard from other students – and even news articles that have raised questions and concerns. In a recent Twitter chat session hosted by educator Melissa Venable, a group of educators addressed this issue and now it’s time to discuss these myths with students (and potential students). So get ready students because it’s time for myth busting related to online learning.

Myth #1: Students can complete the required work at their own pace.

Students have access to the classroom virtually any time of the day and this provides flexibility, which means they can choose the time of day to study. But an online class is not a correspondence course because there is an established curriculum with planned learning activities and due dates for all assignments. As an example, students will likely have a discussion board that requires participation throughout the week, along with papers, quizzes, or other activities that are due, making it imperative to have an effective time management plan in place.

Myth #2: Online class work is easier than taking classes at a traditional college.

If students have this idea in mind prior to starting an online class, it is quickly dispelled during the first week of class when they receive the course syllabus and discover that the workload is just as demanding, if not more so than in a traditional course. Students are often conditioned to the traditional class format, which involves attending a class lecture, taking notes, occasionally participating, and completing a required midterm and final exam. Online students find that there is a different approach to class work and it may be more challenging when there a discussion question to answer and a participation requirement to be met. In addition, students often have more papers to write as it is a means of demonstrating what’s been learned. Before your class begins, take time to review the course materials and become familiar with all requirements so you are well prepared.

Myth #3: It’s difficult to develop working relationships.

What I’ve discovered is that I get to know my online students better than many of my on-ground students because of the frequency of our interactions. Instead of meeting with students once a week, I work with my online students throughout the entire week. This is also true for students who are forced to interact with their classmates several times during the week. Since all students are required to participate in the class discussions, everyone is visible and present within the discussion boards – and this provides an excellent opportunity for students to establish working relationships. Over time they begin to feel comfortable discussing important issues with each other and through this process they also discover similar academic interests. Students can build upon this connection to develop an academic network and support group.

Myth #4: This isn’t a “real” degree with “real” instructors.

The curriculum designed for most online courses is done with the needs of students in mind. For example, students often learn relevant skills for the business world. Many of the skills that students learn throughout their degree program are also developed by students in a traditional classroom; however, the difference for the online learner is that these skills have been adapted for interactions that do not occur face-to-face, and employers view these virtual skills as highly desirable qualities of potential employees. Also important for online class facilitation is that many instructors are working in the field in which they are teaching and they provide professional or practical insight, experience, and background during class discussions. 

Myth #5: The online classroom is a perfect match for all students.

Becoming an online student requires specific skill sets and characteristics, and some students may not want to try a different method of learning. Online students must be willing to adapt to the use of technology, develop effective study habits, and become actively involved in the learning process. One of the most important traits needed for success in this environment is self-discipline, which includes development of self-motivation. It can be challenging at times to stay on track, especially for students who are also working, have limited time, and other responsibilities. Only students who are willing to adapt to this type of environment will find it is a good match.

Myth #6: Students don’t receive personalized feedback.

What students usually discover when they take an online course is that feedback is provided on a frequent basis and often tailored to their specific needs. Most online schools require instructors to provide individual feedback for the discussion board postings and written assignments. Instructors will often utilize a rubric, which is a table or grid that allocates points for each of the assignment criteria. This helps eliminate guesswork when instructors evaluate students’ work and transforms subjective feedback into objective feedback by remaining focused on these criteria. Students can use this feedback to their benefit as it serves as guide for their developmental progress throughout the class.

Myth #7: Students can only learn when an instructor is physically present.

Students develop this perception when they believe they have one, fixed learning style – which is a description of the way that they learn and process information. Some students may initially find that an online classroom environment is not aligned with their preferred learning style. However, it is possible to work in this environment if students learn other methods of processing information by developing learning strategies. For example, students that prefer a hands-on approach to learning benefit from interactive activities such as note-taking. The most important discovery online students make is that they are adaptable to more than one learning style and can learn in a variety of ways, if they are willing to do so.

Myth #8: Online schools don’t offer quality courses.

As potential students consider an online degree option, it is important to review the school’s accreditation because this is an indicator that there are standards of quality in place to address all aspects of the degree programs. Many online schools take the issue of quality assurance one step further by signing on with a program called Quality Matters™ (QM). When a school requests a QM audit, a course is assessed through eight measures of quality: Course Overview and Introduction, Learning Objectives (Competencies), Assessment and Measurement, Instructional Materials, Learner Interaction and Engagement,  Course Technology, Learner Support, and Accessibility. As students review a school’s website, look for the QM logo. It will indicate that the school has peer-reviewed, quality-certified courses.

Myth #9: It’s easy for online students to cheat.

Online students, like their traditional on-campus counterparts, are expected to submit their own work. Students often acquire information by using a search engine when they are pressed for time or need to develop ideas. In a moment of feeling frustrated or rushed, it may be tempting to directly copy information without providing a proper acknowledgement – as a means of completing the assignment. This is a common trend among all higher education institutions. Online schools have taken a proactive approach to addressing this issue and require instructors to utilize a plagiarism review service to monitor the originality of students’ papers. While it may seem easier to cheat at online schools, students are more likely to get caught because monitoring is a mandatory standard.

Myth #10: Online learning causes isolation.

Online learning is also known as distance learning and the myth is that the distance equates to students working at home in isolation. What students find is that most online instructors are aware of this challenge and attempt to establish a strong and interactive virtual presence by modeling active engagement in the class, while demonstrating responsiveness to students’ questions and developmental needs. A sense of isolation occurs when students do not make an effort to be present and active in class; therefore, it becomes important for them to ask questions and seek assistance when help is needed so it doesn’t occur.

Myths Busted

These are common myths that students often believe before starting an online degree program and, as the list demonstrates, they are pre-conceived ideas that are dispelled once the course begins. It is, however, necessary to expose these myths now because they can create unrealistic expectations for students, which often result in frustration when starting a class – and beginning an online program can already be stressful when they have to learn how to use and navigate through this environment. It can also lead to students dropping out of their courses.

As most students have found once they began their academic program, the online classroom can provide a highly interactive and collaborative learning environment. For students who need a traditional classroom structure, online learning may not be a good match. However, for those students who are willing to be adaptive to new methods of learning, this can be an effective and dynamic classroom environment.

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