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Laura Janis ThompsonThe Online Learning Option

by Laura Janis Thompson

Every day, students who dream of going to college are subjected to a barrage of television advertising that attempts to convince them that online education is surely the best way to pursue a degree. My favorite commercial is a veritable Broadway show featuring pajama-clad actors dancing, singing and cavorting across the screen; a rousing display cleverly designed to persuade the most reluctant student to enroll. As the veteran of many online classes, I must confess, it is a pretty awesome way to go to school and can be particularly appealing to students who juggle multiple commitments such as work and family. However, before you leap or put on your “jammies”, or even belt out a show tune, there is much to consider.

Advertising aside, everyone seems to have an opinion these days regarding the online format of education. To many of us, both education professionals and students alike, it sometimes seems like a war between those who are “for” and those who are “against”. Some opposing points of view are completely valid while others are unfounded and wildly off-base. Often, the negative opinions are expressed by those who tend to be suspicious of anything that might be strange or unfamiliar. Considering that many of them might never have attended a class in a virtual environment and don’t spend a whole lot of time on the Internet, skepticism is understandable. Extreme naysayers even feel that the only worthwhile way to learn must include four walls, a desk, and a living, breathing professor!

I’ve read about and discussed the validity of online education to death and frankly, I think it’s like anything else; there are good and bad online classes and there are good and bad online instructors. There are also good and bad brick and mortar classes, and good and bad brick and mortar teachers, as well. While all of this should be important to you as a prospective student, I am sure that what you really want to know is whether you will succeed in an online class. After all, the “halls” of the virtual college campus` are littered with casualties who ventured unprepared into the dark and mysterious world of online classes. What is the guarantee you won’t be one of them? Will online learning suit your own personal life style and learning style? What is your learning style? For that matter, for those of you who are unfamiliar, what is a learning style?

What’s a Learning Style?

Experts agree that auditory learners are drawn to listening and speaking methods of learning, and thrive in that environment. Visual learners prefer reading, and usually are skilled at writing, while kinesthetic learners enjoy being hands on and interactive. Although some online schools tend to gloss over this very important research, and attempt to lure students to enroll with promises of podcasted lectures and real time Webcasting, for the most part, if you are a non-visual learner there may be some adjustments to make on your part for this very visual structure of learning. Having a firm grasp of one’s own particular learning style could be the make it, or break it factor in this type of academic setting. Does this mean that you will not be successful in the virtual classroom? Absolutely not! It does mean, however, that forewarned should be forearmed. Having a solid grasp of your strengths and weaknesses as a learner could be a huge advantage, and have a tremendous impact on your ability to thrive in any type of learning environment. There is a wealth of information and resources available online for students to determine their learning style. Having this information will provide essential study ammunition!

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