Seven Online Education Myths Debunked

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Academic expert dispels popular myths about online courses and degrees.

By Terence Loose    

At one time or another, the world was believed to be flat, leeches were considered good medicine, and the apocalypse was supposed to hit in 2000. Well, we all know how those theories turned out.

Enter online education myths, which range from "online degrees are easier to earn" to "you have to be a techie to enroll."

Turns out, those - and other popular myths about online education - are about as true as the flat world theory.

"[Online education] is not different content. It's not different academic expectations or requirements. It's simply a different way of delivering the material," says Blake Withall, director of academic services for University of South Florida's University College. "It really allows access to a good education for people that otherwise would not have access to a high-quality education."

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To make sure you don't let myths stand in your way of pursuing a 21st-century education, we asked Withall to debunk seven of the most common online education myths.

Read on to learn the truth about online courses and degrees.

Myth #1 - Online courses are easier than in-class courses.

The Truth: "That is absolutely a myth," says Withall."In fact, taking an online course, if it's from a reputable institution, generally takes more time, energy, and self-discipline to work through than the on-campus equivalent. You're not being baby-sat. You really have to be self-motivated."

"The trade-off," he says, "is it's more flexible. You're able to learn anywhere, anytime."


Myth #2 - You have to be tech-savvy to take an online class.

The Truth: "Maybe at one time that was the case, but the learning management systems that are used today make navigating online courses very straight-forward and intuitive," says Withall.

"You have to be able to read. You have to be able to write. You need to be able to think critically in the course, but it's not about being tech-savvy," he adds.


Myth #3 - You don't receive personal attention in online education.

The Truth: "That really is a matter of the quality of the instructor," says Withall. "You can have good instructors who are very attentive in class and they do a great job being facilitators of learning. And you can have really lousy instructors in class who do not do anything to facilitate learning."

"And the same is true for online courses," he says. "There can be plenty of interaction and personal attention built into online courses."

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Myth #4 - You can "hide" in an online course and never participate.

The Truth: "It's actually hard for me to believe that's a myth, because in fact almost everyone says that within an online course, it is far easier to monitor the interactions, the activity, and the participation of a student," insists Withall.

"It's really tough to sit in the back of the room when what you're doing online is actually recorded," he adds. "So if you don't participate online, it's clear."


Myth #5 - You don't learn as much when you pursue an online degree.

The Truth: "If the courses are developed properly, the learning outcomes should be the same in online courses as they are on campus. The assignments are going to be basically the same assignments that a student has in an in-class environment," Withall says.

"In fact," he adds, "when faculty develop online courses, what often happens is there's such a wealth of information they want to tap into that it's really a matter of keeping the class comparable to the in-person course."

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Myth #6 - Respected schools don't offer online degrees.

The Truth: "You have to have your head in the sand at this point to believe that respected institutions do not have online degrees," says Withall. "Basically, any university that has now been in the game for a little while will have online degrees, from Stanford to University of Texas to the University of Michigan."

And he emphasizes, "They're the same courses, the same degrees."


Myth #7 - Networking opportunities aren't available through online education.

The Truth: "You know what the most significant networking system in the world now is?" asks Withall. "The web itself is a huge network of opportunities, which is something that is almost intrinsic within online courses."

"The ability to get learners to go onto the web and get information and make contacts is part of the whole environment of an online course," he says. "Students are not sitting there in isolation, so that myth seems so counterintuitive."

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Next Article: The Eight Most Popular Online Degrees »

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