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 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 to this setup, as well as some of the challenges (and how to solve them).

The pros of virtual learning

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 nontraditional college students who already hold jobs.

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.

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.

Challenges that online learning presents

How to effectively participate

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 actually require online students participate even more to make up for the fact that they’re not physically “in class.” 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.

The need to be self-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.

Opportunities for 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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