How Do You Like Your Online Classes?

photo found on flickr.com and taken from GDC Online

photo found on flickr.com and taken from GDC Online

Yesterday I had a fascinating discussion with friends about online education. I’m going to share our three experiences below, but what I can’t help but wonder as I write this is what your experiences have been? Online education seems to be changing every day and people have such different stories to share. I think we could learn so much for both ourselves and our institutions if we started talking to other students more.

Hopefully these can start an interesting and productive discussion:

My schooling has mainly been on campus with a handful of masters level classes online. These classes varied from (1) listening to a three hour lecture each week with no discussion; (2) listening to a one-hour lecture every week, accompanied by moderated online postings and discussion; and lastly (3) listening to a lecture once a week and meeting in person one day a week for group discussion. I have found my experiences with online courses to be really good. However, I think people might be surprised that courses online are just as much work (if not more) than taking classes in person. For me, though, to learn the most I would need a mixture of both in person and online classes to be happy.

Friend #2 attained his PhD by doing what he estimates as about 80% of the work online. His doctoral studies held a heavy emphasis on online work with intermittent meetings in person throughout the year. My friend said that through Skype, online discussions, and similar technology, he felt he knew his classmates better than if he were physically present. And their bond was only made stronger as they shared their one-week “intensives” throughout the year.

Friend #3 was a stay-at-home mom for the last 18 years and is now getting her M.Div. totally online. She said that it just wasn’t a possibility to move her family to the location of a seminary, but she felt called to work in ministry. She has expressed how lucky this opportunity has been for her, but that she feels very disconnected from any interactions and that, “I’m just floating out there. No one really even knows me as a student or classmate. I’m just a number.” Nevertheless, she is thrilled despite her isolation because she’s going to earn a degree she really wants and is willing to work for.

As you can see, we have all had different experiences with online work. What I find most interesting is how two people who have had their experiences of degrees earned mostly online have had totally different experiences. Friend #2 has seen his online time as bringing him closer to his classmates than he would have been if they were in a classroom, while #3 has found her time to be very lonely.

What are your thoughts and experiences with online education? Are they the same? Are they different? Positive? Negative? What has online education been like for you?