Do you remember the last time you wrote a letter on one of those blue inland postcards, waiting for it to be delivered in the next 5-15 days? These were the times when DD Metro was the hottest channel of the two there were, I phone was Tarzan speak for I will call, and Google was not a verb.
The world has changed a lot since the dawn of the internet, in the 90s. It seems to have become smaller, the size of the little grab size mouse under your grip. You can shop, bank, date, work and even troll on the internet. So it would only make sense that you can even learn from it.
Internet is a massive source of information. While it is true that a lot of people consider the real reason why Brangelina is splitting up as useful content, there are people out there who use the internet for more educational purposes.
Not just Youtube videos of how to’s but actual structured curriculum styled educational material, classes and assessments imparted over ones’ broadband connection. Online courses and online degrees are the new distant education platforms.
However unlike any before, you never have to leave your couch to receive a certificate. With technological advances, interactive learning has made it possible to even appear for tests online. So go ahead and take your quiz in your two week old rag shirt. Revel in your rebel!
But before you open up your wallets to register for the next course, it would behoove (/bee-houve/ – here’s your chance to learn from the internet) upon you to know what are the advantages and disadvantages, of online courses. We will also try to evaluate its effectiveness when it comes to practical aspects. Given that you have a degree online, does that make you more, less or equally employable?
The advantages of online courses
Ever heard the old story parents like to reminisce every now and then? In our days we used to walk, swim and hop to school for 5 miles, every single day! Yes, that one. The one especially targeted to make us feel like privileged brats! Pretty soon, even your story of taking the school bus will become a tale from the days of yore. ‘Coz with the adaptability and convenience that online courses have to offer, even packing your bag, with books, will seem like an arduous affair. One could be sitting in a pub and finishing their assignment on their phone. Not recommended, but certainly possible.
On a more serious note, it makes education accessible to the many who can’t afford to be physically present in a classroom. Take, for example, the online specializations offered by some of the most prestigious universities in the US. A Python course from the University of Michigan is now possible for a guy sitting in Trichy, while a Johns Hopkins professor teaches Data Science to another in Kochi (Also read how to kick start a career in Data Science). So really, anyone now has the chance to garner knowledge from some of the best in the world, without even having to ever visit Ann Arbor or Baltimore.
This is the true spirit of education. No barriers whatsoever!
2. Low Cost
Online courses are really very cheap to set up. There are no physical classrooms or hours needed. Not even the shade of an old banyan tree. All an instructor needs is an internet connection and a decent knowledge of upload here. They can choose to record lectures and prepare assignments at their convenience. Consequently you don’t have to pay over and above the basic cost of the degree, either.
Not to mention the flexibility that lets you pursue the course in your free time, opening up the possibility of fast tracking your graduation or even work on the side.
3. Student Friendly
Did you ever have a professor who would talk too low or too fast, one who would scribble all over the blackboard and then erase before you got a chance to shorthand everything into illegible notes? Before your head falls off with a wild affirmative shaking, let us just say fear not. When you are watching your class lecture online, you can pause, play, rewind or even skip to the meaty parts like you do when you are watching a steamy Hollywood movie. You are not alone!
It is also easier, for the professors, to use the best of technology and organize guest lectures, exemplary videos, and other resources to make a coherent and effective course structure. So, when you finally sit down to follow the classes, you know exactly what’s going on. Even if you drift off to day dreaming in the middle of it.
Unlike the usual physical classrooms, there are no limits to the number of students who can attend. And, as in big classes, you don’t have to worry about the pace of the lecture. You learn at your own. You neighboring student, perhaps sitting in another continent, can learn at his.
4. Improved International Perception
According to several recruiting firms, in the US, small businesses are now more accepting of students who have online degrees. This is a massive change from the early skepticism of you are no match to them others, you just had to pay for the degree.
Based on a study, by Insperity (a recruiting service firm), of nearly 100,000 small size businesses, 75% of the them were basically unaffected by the online vs offline educational background of students. While the rest 25% were more on the oh no we shouldn’t wagon.
While a lot of businesses were perfectly fine with hiring online bachelor’s degree holders, a lot of them preferred them when they were attached to the resume of experienced prospectives. ‘Coz in their case, the pursuit of a degree, on top of a regular job or education, was considered to be a sign of an eager learner, capable of multitasking.
Online degrees offered by well known Universities, including big Ivy league colleges, has vastly helped improve their reputation.
For instance, University of Delaware-Lerner College of Business and Economics, offers online MBA. University of Columbia- Columbia Business School offers an executive educational program, Personal Leadership Online. (Check out the top ranked Business Schools in the world)
Let’s move on to the not so flattering side of online education. These assume that getting the internet guys to show up and actually fix up your house with the connection is not an issue. The next few points list out what happens after you agree to the terms and conditions.
The disadvantages of online courses
1. Where’s the human touch?
As much as you may despise your fellow classmate who constantly interrupts class proceedings with seemingly inane questions, he is actually helping you learn at the same time.
What’s not very surprising is that learning is a social process. It is the to and fro of questions, doubts and responses that help us all put everything together.
If your assignment was to read and understand the story of Cinderella, it would be easy to come up with the moral of the story – Evil step mom loses, good Cinderella and the Prince live happily ever after.
While correct, without classroom interaction you may completely miss that it is by and large a misogynistic representation of women. Cinderella being the classic oppressed damsel who waits for a man to rescue her and what a surprise, the Prince can only tell her apart, from other swooning women, by her shoe size. I take you thee, you size 6!!
2. Assessment Effectiveness
A lot of online certifications and degrees rely on trusting the students to be honest about the authenticity of their tests and assignments. I declare that the work is original and I am not pulling a Munnabhai.
While you may be completely genuine about your declaration, the inability of the system to examine and judge student performances as fairly as its physical/offline counterpart, generally renders its grades to be less reliable.
That brings us to the topic of credibility of an online degree. Online courses and certifications have sprung up, like weed, everywhere in the digital continuum. Some offer free trial classes, while some make tall claims of nearly 100% placement after you spend a certain considerable amount on an abridged, fast track degree of MBA, Data Science and what have you.
But just like you should be aware of scamish emails asking for all your information to help you earn a quick and easy buck, you should also be aware of scammers who lure unsuspecting students by flashing fancy, yet fake, names of accrediting agencies of online courses.
These guys have honed the skill of faking to a science. So the only way you can outsmart them is by checking their background thoroughly. First off, always check to see if the course accrediting agency falls under the approved list by the US government. The other litmus test is to check if you can easily transfer credits from the said online course to a well known university.
If University of California is refusing to transfer the 3 credits of your online course from www.AnyDegreeForABuck.org, you know you’ve been taken for a ride. If some place is claiming big ticket jobs in return, check with former students. Just put on your Sherlock hat and smoke his pipe to unravel the genuineness. Word of the wise, smoking kills. So just the hat perhaps.
4. Employability in India
When it comes to employability in India though, the Distance Education Bureau (DEB) under UGC, the Distance Education Council (DEC), and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) are not readily granting their blessings yet.
They reserve it for the offliners. Woh degree aur blessing de chuke sanam. So until they reach a consensus on an online regulatory framework, no government jobs for you post your online graduation. (Check out list of popular career options in India)
Ultimately it boils down to what you want to achieve out of the course. Is it about learning a skill or is it about getting a job? If it is about the former then perhaps it is a good investment. It doesn’t cost as much, doesn’t take up much time and resources and you can get trained even while you are out shopping for groceries.
If it is for employability, you are after, then know your target employers. As is clear, an online degree is not a substitute for a full time degree for most jobs, in India. At least in the public sector. But as is also infinitely clear, the world is an incredibly dynamic place. It is changing, shrinking, and getting connected everywhere. So why not use the resources already there?
Make an informed choice and good luck in your decision.