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Expert Q & A

Is an online learning environment right for you?

Susan Kryczka
Director of Distance Education
Boston University

Q: How do I know if earning a degree through an online distance-learning program is right for me?

A: Succeeding in an online learning environment requires some basic computer skills and a little determination. Because students receive their instruction and coursework online, they need to be comfortable working on computers and have a basic understanding of their functions. It's important to have a working knowledge of Web browsers and e-mail, as well as software applications such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.

Online coursework is largely self-paced, which means students need to be disciplined enough to set a schedule and stick to it. This type of learning environment offers a new level of convenience for students, but it also requires planning and preparation up front. Students regularly submit assignments, including homework, projects, and papers, through the Web interface. Like traditional classroom students, online students must also meet deadlines, so the curriculum is not entirely open-ended.

To truly thrive in a virtual learning environment, students need to take an active role in their education. They need to be consistent in their participation by reading the online lectures, viewing videos, accessing interactive animations, posting their comments to discussion boards, and more. Online learning can also require a lot of written communication, so students should feel comfortable expressing themselves in this manner.

The "community" that is fostered among students of online courses can rival--or even surpass--that which is built among students in a classroom. As in everything, the more you put into it, the more you get back.

In a recent survey conducted among Boston University online students, almost half of them indicated that their online programs were superior to a face-to-face classroom experience. Many students noted that they have forged lasting personal and professional relationships through their online learning experiences.

While undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 22 seem to do better in a traditional classroom setting, online university programs are often a great choice for working professionals who want to continue their education without interrupting their careers.

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