5 Common Misconceptions of Online Education

By Heather Farmakis

Institutions of higher education around the world are pivoting to online learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scores of educators are becoming newly familiar with online teaching and are facing a steep learning curve adapting to new norms, needs, and environments, as well as some push-back among students and fellow faculty.

As systems of higher education move their curriculum online, many students have questions about the quality of education they will receive online as opposed to an in-person classroom experience. To address some of these misconceptions of online learning, here are five myths that many people worry about when weighing online learning as an option.

#1- Online learning is less rigorous.

When online courses first became popular, concerns were raised about their rigor as opposed to in-person classes. Many students may still believe that online learning is easier than a traditional classroom. However, this has been largely proven incorrect – online courses require a similar amount of study hours spent per week as in-person courses and can actually be more difficult than in-person courses. A study conducted by professors from The University of Houston elaborates on how students are required to be highly self-motivated in order to stay on track, up to date with classwork, and remain engaged in online courses. In fact, professors structure their courses to incorporate more formative assessments and discussions from students to ensure that students are fully present and able to succeed in the course.

#2-Cheating is more widespread in online courses.

Many professors teaching courses online worry that their students will be less trustworthy. What is to stop students from accessing resources that will enable them to cheat on quizzes or exams with ease? A paper from the University of Houston-Clear Lake details how colleges, universities, and professors have adapted to this aspect of online coursework in clever ways. Professors can use software to disable new browsers from being opened while exams are in progress. Exams can be timed once students begin taking them and some professors require students to download monitoring systems to allow a remote proctor to watch students’ movements during exams. While these monitoring systems may not be foolproof, professors can also create exams that are not easy to cheat on but require students to use critical analysis and relate concepts learned throughout the course.

#3-It is harder to interact with professors and classmates.

A commonly held belief about taking online courses is that there is very little interaction with professors or classmates, making for a solitary experience. However, professors can anticipate this and often structure courses to ensure that courses include interactive aspects such as live lectures, virtual office hours, opportunities for students to get to know one another, and check-ins with students to make sure that students are getting the most out of the class according to a study from The George Washington University. Students can be expected to engage in discussion boards, seminars, group projects, and group presentations, which result in students getting to know each other better. (2)

#4- Online degrees are not valued by employers.

Despite the stigma associated with online degrees in the past, online degrees have become increasingly common, and employers can no longer afford to discount online programs as discussed by Julie L. Globokar in her book Introduction to Online Learning: A Guide for Students. We are now starting to see more accredited institutions of higher education begin to offer blended and fully online course offerings and degree programs. Of course, just as different colleges and universities hold a higher prestige than others, online degree programs can vary widely in terms of content and reputation, so it is important to research and select programs which are accredited to ensure that the online degree students earn prepares them for the career they desire.

#5-The quality of online education is lower than in-person classes.

Accredited college and university online courses are subject to the same stringent review process as traditional college and university courses. To maintain accreditation, schools must enforce high academic standards for all programs according to an article by Shailendra Palvia. Often, online curriculum is subject to tougher scrutiny due to its online nature. Professors also offer more resources than ever to help them successfully produce online courses for students. Simply put, online education need not be any less effective or engaging than traditional classes.

Online learning has become increasingly common and this trend is likely to continue in the years to come. The increased accessibility to educational opportunities not only makes universities and colleges more competitive but also drives these institutions to foster more inclusive and diverse environments. Students who may not otherwise be able to access higher education because of the cost, their daily schedules, a lack of transportation, or their location now have the opportunity to apply to a wider array of online programs. And in the age of COVID-19, we can expect online learning to expand to younger students and broader audiences going forward.

Need help adapting to the new online learning realities of 2020? TIEC can help! Contact us to find out about our e-learning resources for schools and educational institutions.

About the Author:

Heather Farmakis joined TIEC in 2018 as the Chief Learning Officer, bringing decades of expertise in online learning, leadership and executive education programs, educational product development, accreditation, business development, and program evaluation. Prior to joining TIEC, Dr. Farmakis served as the Director of Academic Services for Academic Partnerships, a private higher education consulting firm. In this role, she consulted with universities both domestically and abroad about online curriculum and program development to offer universal access to students from all over the globe. She was instrumental in the development of unconventional educational product innovations, increasing accessibility to higher education around the world.