Pros and Cons of Online University Courses

Here’s a list of the pros and cons, to help you decide if online university courses are a good way to get a degree.

Students often ask me if online university courses are a good way to get a degree. Here’s what I learned from taking two online social work courses through Thompson Rivers University (TRU), which is based in Kamloops, BC.

Last year, I took six in-person university courses at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I’m working on my Master’s of Social Work (MSW), and I have one year to go.

I had to take two online university courses from TRU before I started the MSW program, because my undergraduate degrees are in Psychology and Education (not Social Work). So, UBC asked me to take two undergrad social work courses from TRU – which cost over $500 each. Before this, I took one online university course for my Education degree, which I got from the University of Alberta (U of A).

Next year, I’m registered for two online courses at the University of British Columbia: Philosophy 434A 99C (Business and Professional Ethics), and Social Work SOWK 522 99C (Family Mediation and Conflict Resolution). I’m not 100% sure I’ll stay registered in those courses – I signed up for them because I only want to commute to UBC one day a week in the second semester. It’s pure convenience and maybe a little bit of laziness!

Online University Courses

Benefits of online university courses

  • No need to attend classes at a specific time on a specific day (so, no need for babysitters or dog walkers!)
  • No crowded commute to the university – which is why I registered for the online courses at UBC
  • Less expensive if you drive a car to university (but my grad school tuition includes a monthly bus pass for local transit, so I’m not saving money on transportation by taking an online university course)
  • Open to students who don’t live near a university (though moving to go to university is an awesome experience! Unless you have kids, spouses, dogs, cats, and mortgages)
  • More convenient
  • Self-paced

The internet offers a fast and efficient way to take online university courses, which is one reason they are a good way to get a degree.

Drawbacks of online university courses

  • No in-person student or professor interaction
  • No difference in tuition cost (at the graduate studies level, online university courses are the same price as in-person courses – which is free! The MSW degree has a set tuition, and we can take as many courses as we like)
  • No interaction with fellow students and professors, which limits networking for your future career or job
  • Limited ability to make personal connections (friends) with fellow students
  • Poor quality of online university courses (though in-person university courses can be just as bad)
  • No exposure to campus life (e.g., social clubs, parties, study groups, etc.), which is one of the best parts of being a university student!

I don’t think online university courses are a good way to get a degree, because I believe the value of higher education is in the classroom discussions. I learned so much from my social work courses last year because we debated, discussed, argued, and learned how to communicate more effectively. I don’t think online university courses offer these benefits.

However, it depends on your lifestyle and circumstances. If you’re an adult going back to school, you may not be interested in the experience of university because you’ve already “been there, done that.” But if you’re in your late teens or early 20s, you might want to avoid online university courses because they don’t give you the campus experience.

If you’re thinking about getting an online degree in the social sciences, read What to Do With a Psychology Degree. I definitely think social service or social science degrees are best done in person, not online.

That said, however, I’ll probably stay registered in my two online university courses because it’s easier and more convenient. Plus, I’m very interested in the courses themselves – business ethics and family conflict resolution – and they aren’t offered in-person. But I think I’ll miss the classroom interaction.

What do you think – are university courses are a good way to get a degree? I welcome your comments below.

If you’re taking online courses, you need a reliable laptop. The most popular one on Amazon is the  Dell Inspiron 15 Inch Laptop. Or splurge on an Apple – I’m saving up for a  Apple MacBook Pro!

Do you use an iPad, tablet, laptop, or player for university? Read The Best University Apps for iPads – Online Textbooks.

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