Is online learning for you?

What are the differences between online and traditional college courses?

April 23, 2018 - 3:48 pm

Retired U.S. Navy officer Gary Hayslip knew exactly what he wanted to do when he got out.  The question was, how to match a formal education with his hectic Navy lifestyle.

"I love computers, and I knew that my goal was to work in IT and cybersecurity. When I looked at the curriculum, it worked well with my plans,” Hayslip said. “Plus, UMUC understood our crazy schedules and deployments, and I was able to take school work with me no matter where I was in the world.”

If you're ready to commit to furthering your education, but, like Hayslip, you need flexibility in scheduling, online learning could be for you.  He was able to earn his cyber degree while working fulltime.

Online learning offers unique learning experiences for transitioning military and veterans:

  • A flexible schedule that allows you to balance work, college and family.  Military and veterans are often transient, with unusual work schedules.  Online learning lets you focus your schedule so that it works for you. 
  • Lets you attend classes from anywhere as long as you've got a computer and internet access. If you're transferred while attending classes, you can continue your education anywhere.
  • Personalized learning, offering traditional and non-traditional ways to access your material.  Military and veterans often transition to college classes from unique experiences.  Online learning allows you to tailor your learning to your own individual style.
  • The ability to review the material over and over again - watching presentations, listening to lectures and re-reading presentations as often as you need to.

Transitioning military and veterans are often entering college at different ages than traditional freshmen who start right out of high school.  The ability to distance learn eliminates the uncomfortable challenges of a homogenous classroom.

All this makes the learning experience unique to you and your abilities.  

Did you know that 17% of all college learners are online, and it's expected to rise to 25% by 2020?

  • 68% are women
  • 64% are age 21-39
  • 69% are Caucasian
  • 48% live in the 'burbs
  • 54% work fulltime

For veterans, online learning offers flexibility in scheduling around the work-life balance issues that plague us.  Often online universities offer rolling admissions, meaning there are several start dates for classes during each term.  They also offer almost all of their classes online.

Unfortunately, there are several misconceptions about online learning too.  These just aren't true!

  • You can learn at your own pace:  Not really.  Just like face-to-face classes, there are deadlines, quizzes, assignments with due dates and required reading.  This is online learning - not a tutorial that you can do when you want, how you want.  However you can plan and schedule your online classes as they best fit into your schedule.
  • You'll never get to know your teacher:  Actually, your instructor will create many opportunities to communicate with you.  Often instructors have course websites, discussion blogs, social media, plus email/texting/video communication.  Your teacher will want to know you as much as you want to know him.
  • You won't work with your classmates: Although you may not be sitting side-by-side with your classmates, there will be opportunities for collaborative work.  You may be required to do team projects, working together in the same way teleworkers do every single day.
  • It's easier.  Or harder.  Yes. You're right. It's one of those. Understand what kind of learner you are, and how you learn best.  Schedule your learning and your work. Some students prefer flexibility.  Some prefer schedules.  Know who you are and what you need.
  • You have to teach yourself: It is true that you will be responsible for your own learning and your own scheduling.  But the instructors will provide you with every resource you need, from ebooks to lectures to videos to podcasts.  But just like regular in-class learning, you'll need to do your own research and participate in class discussions.

The two most important differences between traditional class learning and online learning are communication and time management.  These factors are up to you, and you'll want to manage them carefully.

Communicating with your online professor is primarily through text or email, not face to face conversation.  You'll want to refine your writing skills so they are professional, clear and concise.  Texting with your instructor is nothing like texting with your buddy.  There are several websites that help with grammar, plagiarism, and style checks.

Time management is your responsibility to schedule your learning.  In face to face college courses, the class, labs and office hours are set.  In online learning, you will need to schedule all these obligations on your own.  This will require planning.  You will have due dates, online lectures and deadlines for assignments.  A successful online learner needs to be self-motivated, able to work independently, self-disciplined and focused.

If anything, you'll learn how to hold yourself accountable, says former Marine Eric Konovalov. "The military is wonderful, but the military is regimented. They tell you everything to do, and in the real world you don’t have that anymore. The way the courses are structured [at UMUC], it’s all on you. You have to be responsible and manage your time wisely.”    Konovalov earned his BS in Business Management after leaving the Marines.

And, make sure you have enough time!  Typically, a 3-credit course course requires about 12 hours of studying per week.  That's for one course over a 16 week period.  If its an accelerated 8 week course, expect to spend more time studying.  

If you would like the flexibility of online learning but still crave the interaction of a class format, consider exploring hybrid learning - where you meet once a week at a satellite campus, yet still do the majority of your learning online.  University of Maryland University Campus offers hybrid learning throughout the mid-atlantic, and at bases scattered around the world. 

University of Maryland University College is a proud partner of Connecting Vets.  For more information on online learning for veterans and military, click here.