Online Education
December 11, 2004 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience with online courses / distant learning ? [mi]

My wife is considering to take a few online courses while we're waiting for her work permit paperwork to sort out. She's a Civil Engineer (M.Sc.) who wants to take some business / management courses, or possibly some English writing skills course. We found out about UCLA Extension, which seems to suit her needs. If possible, she'd like to avoid actually going to the campus (which some online courses require for workshops, etc). Does anyone have experiences, good or bad, with these type of courses ? Any recommendations for schools ?
posted by swordfishtrombones to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Motivation is key, and I think it depends a lot on the class. A couple of my friends knocked their required anthropology credit out online, and said it was no problem. On the other hand, I once tried taking correspondence Spanish I. I made it about half way through the first chapter before I put it down and never looked back. Obviously, YMMV
posted by fourstar at 3:49 PM on December 11, 2004

I physically attended a classics course at Harvard Extension that was also offered online. They videostreamed the lectures and the in-class discussions, and scheduled online discussion groups with a TA who was specifically assigned to the distance students. Because it was a pretty large class with little direct contact with the professor, I think the distance students had the same access to everything the course offered as the rest of us. If your wife is motivated, she ought to do it.

The quality of Harvard's extension course offerings were great and relatively inexpensive, but their distance education offerings are slim and mostly outside her areas of interest.
posted by sophie at 4:34 PM on December 11, 2004

I teach 120 students a semester in online history courses. The course is not any harder than the classroom version, but the dropout and failure rates are enormous, 30-40%. It is all about self-discipline and time management. Too many of my students sign up thinking that taking internet courses means they can still work 40 hours a week and play bass in a band. Others forget they are in the class until 12 hours before the next test. But for the students who can do it, online course are a great way to work a college education into a busy life. My email is in the profile, feel free to contact me for more info.
posted by LarryC at 5:50 PM on December 11, 2004

I work for a college that sees great things for their asynchronous learning initative, and part of my job is managing the backend of their online learning system. I personally see potential, but not much of value being delivered. It very much depends on the instructor. I'm also privately developing a specialized web-based education system using a completely different model. My feeling is that most of the e-learning movement is just like the dotcom boom, only the purveyors are even less clear about their motives and deliverables than the dotbomb CEOs. Caveat emptor.

The best value for the money is MIT's OpenCourseware.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:18 PM on December 11, 2004

It's so very all about the time management. It's good that you're a couple: if she can't manage the time, do it for her and make her do the things. Worked for me.
posted by bonaldi at 8:47 PM on December 11, 2004

I agree with what people have said about time management. I've taken a number of online courses, and I had to make sure that I had time each week to read the material, do the online assignments, study, and take the tests. The courses I found easiest to manage were the ones that required ongoing participation in classroom forums, which made it easy for me to set consistent time out of my schedule instead of procrastinating until the last minute.
posted by bedhead at 12:54 AM on December 12, 2004

As long as she is motivated, it should be great! I've taken many online courses and I love them. Time management is vitally important and it actually may take a little more time as conversing via computer is a little more difficult than face to face discussion, but it depends on what each class requires as far as forum participation. Instructor style will make a difference, too. She may want to make sure that whatever courses she takes are moderated by someone who has good experience with it. Some teacher's really aren't good with the distance courses, but that goes without saying, I suppose.
posted by codeofconduct at 1:10 AM on December 12, 2004

conversing via computer is a little more difficult than face to face discussion

*blink* Hmm, I suppose it might be, for some folks.
posted by olecranon at 9:41 AM on December 12, 2004

I'm just finishing my BSIT degree at the University of Phoenix online. Way over priced but the experience was much better than I expected. I started school over 20 years ago and because of "Real-Life" getting in the way I really wasn't able to get back to finishing school until the online programs came along. The quality of my classmates was pretty low for the 1st 4 to 5 classes but after that those who weren't serious dropped by the wayside. The main thing you need to do is to set a schedule that works for you and stick to it. That was the hardest for me in the beginning, but after a few months it became second nature. In general I feel I got what I needed out of the program and I'll be starting my Masters studies in March at Boston University in another online program. Discipline and sticking to a schedule that works for your particular situation are what I found to be most important in being successful in the online setting.
posted by white_devil at 10:43 AM on December 12, 2004

I took some online courses at Columbia.

In my opinion, it's amazing they give credit for these things. The class is basically: read these books, post a comment online, write a paper. That's it. There's no reason any of this needs to be done online. It could be done through the mail.

Doing well in courses like this is eeeeeasy, but actually learning something is haaaaaard.
posted by xammerboy at 4:31 PM on December 12, 2004

I've been taking online courses. The motivation is KEY and somewhat more difficult than you might expect. There's really something about meeting with people and having to look your prof in the eye and all that which encourages you to do your work :)

Also, if there's mandatory discussion, it can often seem really forced and will be hell to read. I took an Intro to Library Science class with a discussion on censorship which was like 200 (lengthy) messages, which could easily be summed up in two words (censorship bad).
posted by dagnyscott at 5:51 PM on December 12, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all for the responses. Motivation isn't a problem, since she is dying to do anything at the moment.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 7:59 AM on December 13, 2004

I know this is a bit late, but I've taken a few online courses through my local community college and one through UCLA, and I would agree that the quality of the class mostly depends on the instructor. A disorganized or technologically inept professor can make the experience horrible, just as an adept one can make it worthwhile.

The class I took via UCLA was on Screenwriting Fundamentals. My TA was in Chicago while my classmates were all over the globe, which was interesting. Our lesson plan included readings out of our textbook, accompanying audio lectures (RealAudio, and of surprisingly good quality - no skippage on my crappy dial-up connection), and two hour-long chats a week with our TA. We were also required to post two messages to a message board each week, but it was fairly trivial and inane. The real meat was in the book and the lectures. The chat discussions were a mixed bag - having fifteen people in a chat room is always going to be a bit chaotic, never mind when you have some people constantly booted off with technical problems, late arrivals, clueless students who obviously had neither read nor listened to lecture, etc. I learned a lot, but it was mostly the result of the book and the lectures - the interactive element was useful for feedback, but most work could be completed independently with little trouble.

The class is basically: read these books, post a comment online, write a paper. That's it.

Yeah, I would definitely recommend you try and find classes that come with an audio lecture or materials to supplement the core work; there should be teaching going on, not just busy work.
posted by brookedel at 2:13 AM on December 17, 2004

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