Online programs offer education, regardless of location

Lauren Fox, Managing Editor

Imagine earning a college degree without commuting to campus, getting dressed for class or even leaving your bed. For many students, this may not sound too far-fetched after living through a pandemic, but according to University of North Florida (UNF) Assistant Vice-President for Digital Learning and Innovation Deb Miller, online learning offers benefits beyond keeping students socially distanced. 

“For a lot of non-traditional students, the ability to take courses online is really important to them because they might be taking care of their families and working a full-time job,” Miller said. “Taking online courses, even for our traditional students, helps them improve time to graduation.”

UNF students who took no online courses had a median time to graduation of 4.59 years, according to a “Time-to-Degree” analysis taken between 2014-2017. Students who took 21-40% of their coursework online brought their median time to graduation down to four years. The data shows that students who take some online classes tend to graduate a semester or two earlier than fully in-person students, Miller explained.

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Part of why remote learning lets students move through university more quickly is because they can often take distance learning classes on their own time throughout the week, so it can easily fit into their schedule. Plus, some courses—such as ones taught during the summer—are accelerated. 

UNF offers three entirely online undergraduate programs, 14 online graduate programs and six online graduate certificates, according to UNF Online. A variety of online courses are offered to supplement the learning experience for students completing primarily in-person programs as well, Miller said. 

While the statistics may make online courses appear enticing, Miller pointed out that some majors are better suited to the online format than others. Certain graduate programs can be effectively taught remotely, and majors that don’t require much time in a classroom can be delivered in a learning environment that allows for more flexibility than scheduled in-person class time. Healthcare, education and business are among the three primary fields in which UNF offers online programs.

“I think UNF has an excellent reputation for healthcare education, and I think for some of these programs, they are leaders nationally in them,” Miller explained. “[With online programs] there’s a real opportunity for the college to attract a national audience.”

Just as not all majors can be taught in the same way, not all students learn identically. Miller explained that students who are organized, independent and good with time management might be better prepared to excel online than students who tend to procrastinate. 

“For people who tend to procrastinate more, they can really get in over their head in an online course […] for students who are willing to learn to be more organized, the experience of taking online courses will probably just reinforce those skills,” Miller said.

Some students are shyer about reaching out for help than others, she explained. In an online environment, students have fewer opportunities to naturally start conversations with their professors, and have to be willing to initiate communication when they have problems or questions, said Miller. 

Certain personal characteristics can be evaluated through a free online testlike one provided by Loyola University New Orleans—so students can gain an insight as to if they fit the bill to be successful online learners. 

The test asks students to consider questions such as “I am comfortable expressing my thoughts in writing” to evaluate potential obstacles online classes may introduce. 

Even the most organized and confident students may face challenges in learning environments, and just because a person isn’t fully convinced they will excel online doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. UNF Online offers distance learning coaches and online tutoring because it’s normal for students to need help while working toward a degree. 

(Thought Catalog/Unsplash)

While some students may enjoy taking classes without the need to put on pants, others may appreciate distance learning because it allows them to forgo paying for gas to commute to school or paying rent to live near campus. Online classes offer the flexibility to learn from just about anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. 

“Some students prefer face to face, some prefer online,” Miller said. “I’m not an advocate for everything being online, but I think it’s a really important tool […] We can really serve our community by offering the right degree program online.”


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