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  • There are lots of advantages to online learning, including the ability to fit classes in around your schedule.
  • Virtual classes can help you save time and money that would otherwise be spent on your commute to campus.
  • Online learning can also prepare you for entering the future workforce, which will likely rely on remote tools like video conferencing.

When you think about the experience of taking college classes, sitting in your bedroom in front of a laptop probably isn’t what first comes to mind. Recently virtual learning has accelerated something that was already growing tremendously over the last decade due to leaps in technology and increased broadband access. And while there are those who pictured themselves sitting side-by-side with their peers as the optimal college experience, others may favor the advantages of learning online. Whether virtual learning was always your plan or not, here are some of the pros and cons of online learning.

The benefits of online learning

1. Learn anywhere, and (sometimes) any time

Without the ties to a physical campus, you can take your classes wherever you’d like, as long as you have Internet access. Not having to commute to campus saves time and gives you a ton of flexibility. Some courses may require that you log on “in person” at a specific time, but many online learning models allow you to learn at times that best fit with your schedule. This is especially appealing to college students who hold jobs.

2. Gain working-world experience

Just like colleges, offices around the world are quickly adapting to virtual work. Zoom meetings, virtual presentations, and other technology-driven work tools are now a big part of our culture. Taking classes online and connecting with your classmates virtually can help you get comfortable with these platforms, as well as digital etiquette and virtual collaboration.

3. Meet people from around the world

While in-person colleges often try to attract a diverse student body, online classes are especially conducive to bringing together people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Taking classes with people from all over the country and the world exposes you to a wide range of ideas and perspectives and can bring material to life in a more enriching way.

4. Have more “you time”

Invest the time you would be commuting to and from class in yourself. Whether that means exercising, working, or dedicating more time to your studies, the time you get back is invaluable—and can help set you up for future success.

5. Get comfy

“School chairs are so comfortable,” said no one, ever. Attending virtual classes has the advantage of creating an ergonomic environment to your liking. Plus, a comfortable study area makes for increased productivity.

6. Save money

Commuting to school isn’t just a time suck. Often, it’s a money suck, too. Pocket what you’d spend on gas or bus fare and use it to get a head start on paying back your student loans or building a nest egg.

7. Build your time management skills

The biggest key to success as an online student is staying organized. Virtual learning provides an ideal opportunity to develop the time management skills that will put you ahead later in life. Use this time to experiment with online planning and project management tools to stay on top of your course load.

The challenges of online learning

1. Participating in class

Being in a physical space together often naturally facilitates class participation. When you’re learning online, it might feel like you don’t need to engage in the same way. But professors value class participation, and in some cases may require online students to participate even more to make up for the fact that they’re not in a physical class room. While it might feel a little forced, make good use of chat rooms, message boards, and other virtual classroom features, which will help you get even more out of the course contents.

2. Staying motivated

Online learning requires a higher level of independence than in-person classes. Without the accountability of set class times and with the ability to effectively hide behind your computer screen, some students may be tempted to put online classwork last on their to-do lists or slack off on assignments. Setting a daily schedule and trying to maintain good work habits and routines can help you manage your workload, stay focused and avoid distractions, and not get overwhelmed when it’s time for exams. For example, on Sunday nights, you could set aside some time to plot out your calendar for the week, including lectures, study sessions, assignments, and team collaboration. Waking up at the same time each day can also help you stick to the schedule you make for yourself.

3. Socializing

Meeting new people, exchanging ideas, forming friendships, and developing mentor relationships are all huge parts of the college experience, and perhaps some of the toughest to translate online. But with a little effort and the right tools, it’s doable. Making use of platforms that connect you with professors and classmates can help, as can dropping in on virtual office hours. You can also organize virtual study groups over Zoom or other video meeting platforms, and use them simply to socialize, too.

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