8 Pros and Cons of Online Learning

Taking online classes can save you money and offer increased flexibility. Learn more about the biggest pros and cons of online learning.
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Updated on January 17, 2023
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Everyone learns at their own pace, which makes learning online often both an effective and efficient option for some college students, especially nontraditional learners.

However, there are advantages and disadvantages to online education, just as there are with other learning environments.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

In this post, we introduce the eight biggest pros and cons of online learning.

Pro: You'll Get a Flexible Schedule

The flexibility of your class schedule means you can learn at your own pace and at times that work best for you. Many students who work full time or who have children choose online classes due to their highly flexible nature.

Depending on the school, you may have classes that are asynchronous or synchronous. Synchronous classes meet at specific times each week in a live video chat environment. Asynchronous classes don't meet on specific dates and don't typically include any live video component.

You can generally complete your assignments during a time that's most convenient for you. Because you don't have to be in class on a certain day, you can work wherever and whenever, as long as you submit your work on time.

Depending on your background, you may also be able to accelerate your learning. Many online programs offer credit for past work or life experience.

Con: You May Have Trouble Getting to Know People

One of the main cons of online learning is that it can be difficult to form personal relationships with classmates and professors. Traditional on-campus learning offers many opportunities to get to know others and build camaraderie through things like in-person classes, clubs, and social events.

Although forging relationships in the online space can be challenging, it's not impossible. Through live virtual lessons, discussion boards, emails, group texts, and collaborative projects, you can get to know your peers — it just takes a little effort.

Pro: You Can Easily Access Everything You Need Online

Many students prefer the convenience of accessing everything they need, whether it's a library resource or a slideshow, through their computer.

With online learning, you can read textbooks, watch lectures and lessons, attend office hours, collaborate with peers, and turn in assignments, all from the comfort of your home.

Con: Sticking to a Schedule Can Prove Tricky

You may not find creating your own schedule a con if you're self-disciplined, but for many students with busy lives, making time for coursework can be challenging. It's especially hard to finish assignments and carve out study time if you tend to procrastinate.

Plan your day in a way that's convenient for you. Stick to deadlines, keep track of assignments and grades, and schedule time to work on your coursework each day so you don't feel overwhelmed.

Pro: You Can Avoid Common Campus Expenses

Learning online instead of on campus can help you save money on transportation expenses like gas, parking, and car maintenance. You can also save money on common campus costs such as meal plans.

Depending on your classes, however, you may be required to spend money on other expenses, like internet access, a laptop, or certain software.

Con: You'll Be Staring at Screens a Lot

Another con of online learning is the amount of time you spend staring at a computer screen. Being in front of computer and phone screens all day can be mentally draining and even physically harmful.

Here are some tips to help you reduce the amount of time you spend looking at screens:

  • Turn off phone and computer notifications when you work on homework.
  • Take a break from online learning — at least five minutes each hour — to let your eyes rest.
  • Set up your desk ergonomically so you can sit and learn more comfortably.

Pro: Online Programs Are Generally More Affordable

The cost of online classes is usually lower than that for on-campus courses. This is why online learning tends to appeal more to learners looking to save as much money on their education as possible.

According to EducationData.org, an online degree costs around $11,000 less than an in-person degree at a public four-year college or university in the U.S.

Consider the various fees associated with online and on-campus programs. Here are some costs to consider:

Con: You May Need to Learn New Technologies

When learning online, you'll need to know how to work the technology your college uses to share information, resources, and assignments.

While you don't need to be an expert with every tool, you do need to know how to use them correctly so you can complete coursework and communicate with your instructor and peers. If you're unfamiliar with the tools used in your class, look for tutorials online or ask your professor for help.

Here are some examples of different technologies you may need to learn how to use for online classes:

  • Learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas and Blackboard
  • Email system, such as Gmail and Microsoft Outlook
  • Messaging system, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Voxer
  • Video chat platforms, such as Zoom and Google Meet

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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