Self-Study Classes Aren’t for Everyone


If you hate going to class, or constantly find yourself cutting out, you might think that online, tv, or correspondence courses are perfect for you.  Afterall, you can do the coursework when it is convenient for you, not when the schedule dictates.  This is all fine and dandy, but before you leap into any kind of a self-study class you need to get honest with yourself and see if you have the self-dicipline to truly cut it.

Some people would have you believe that online classes are a breeze and much easier than their on-campus counterparts.  Others say that they are far more difficult than on-campus classes.  Neither camp is entirely correct.  In fact, the ease or difficulty of a class format is mostly dependent on your study habits, personality, time management skills, and so on.  I’ve taken both kinds of classes, and enough of each to know that teachers don’t make the class harder just because it is online, and they don’t make it any easier just because it is online.

As far as online classes go, you can usually expect to do a significant amount of reading on your own.  This is no different than a run-of-the-mill on-campus course.  Most online classes have some kind of class discussion that allows students to discuss topics with their classmates and instructors.  Discussion and the sharing of ideas is an essential part of the college experience and is not lost in the online format.  In fact, for the shy student who might be too terrified to speak up in class, the online format might actually give them to opportunity to dicuss things with their classmates that they might not otherwise bring up in a traditional class.

Other things that you can expect are online tests and writing assigments.  You will have tests in your online classes, just like you would in a normal class.  And don’t think that just because it is online that you’ll be able to cheat all the time.  Okay, so there are instances in which professors make it so, so easy for us to cheat – like when they give you an easy 20 question test and a two-hour time limit – but that isn’t always the case.  Some teachers like to be evil and give you so many questions that if you even stopped for a moment to look up the answers on Google or wherever, you’d never get it done in time.  Those kind expect you to know the information like the back of your hand, and there’s no time for cheating. 

Writing assignments are also abundant in online courses, usually a bit more so than on-campus courses.  Other than tests, this is the only way that you can show your instructor that you actually understand the material, think critically, and apply what you are learning in the class.  They cannot see your face and know that you are confused.  They cannot call on you when you least expect it.  This gives you the opportunity to show what you know.

So how do you know if an online or self-study class is right for you? 

  • If you hate writing, you may want to think about taking an on-campus course.  Self-study classes require more writing than normal.
  • If you think that you will skate through an online course without doing any work, good luck, you’re on the path to failure. 
  • If you like to put things off til later, best not try this.  Deadlines are just as strict, and can be easier to miss if the online world seems somehow less “real” to you.
  • If you can’t learn things on your own through reading and class work, and need someone else to explain things to you, skip self-study classes.

If you’re still thinking about taking an online or self-study course and are confident that you can succeed, then I wish you luck.  For the right people these kinds of classes are a blessing and a perfect solution.  For the wrong kind of people, it can steer them in the wrong direction, and hasten the path to failure. 

Online classes are great, but they’re not for everyone.  If you are unsure of whether they’d be a good fit for you, even after reading this, then I would suggest trying one out.  Register for one online class, and keep the rest of your classes on campus.  Don’t get over-excited and register for a full-load of online classes if you don’t know what you’re getting into, or have never taken an online class before – it could be too overwhelming.  Start out with one, and if you do well, add another one or two the following semester. 

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