Thursday, September 9, 2010

Should I take that online class?

I recently completed an online grant writing class, but since the initial sign-up, I've read some people's opinions on online learning in general.  I've seen  abject disgust at the entire idea of a digital classroom.  The enterprise, they say, cheapens higher education by introducing lower standard learning as if it is college-worthy.  They are usually educators themselves.

I don't know that I agree with that.  Not entirely.  I went to college.  And I'm proud of the education I received.  But there are problems in higher education that run deep, and an overwhelming number of students in it for the paper instead of the education itself.  The point of taking a class is to learn, isn't it?  If you manage to do that without throwing money at a university, the only person who doesn't benefit is the university.

I realized, though, that I went into this whole thing pretty blind.  So I've put together some questions I probably should have asked.

What do you want out of it?

The main thing you should be considering before you take an online course is what, exactly, you want out of the program.  If it's accreditation toward something, you definitely need to do your homework beforehand.  Just because a course says that you'll get a certificate, or that you'll be trained to perform a certain job doesn't mean that anybody will count the course as real training. 

You wouldn't go to a law school that couldn't lead you to a law degree, no matter how nice the teachers were. That is, unless you weren't going to become a lawyer, but to learn a little about law. 

The same goes for online courses.  In my case, I wanted to learn to write grants.  And I did.  Mission accomplished, for a fraction of the cost of taking a class at the University of Cincinnati itself.

Are you prepared for online learning?

Taking a class online is a different sort of animal than going to a classroom. Technically, I could have probably learned everything I learned from my class by reading a grant writing book.

But I didn't.  I wouldn't.  Grant writing is not so joyous an experience that I ever felt like cracking open a book and reading it for hours on end.  And more than that, if something doesn't make sense on my own, I'm screwed.  There's no professor to ask for clarification.  So taking an online course, for me, accomplished three things that studying by myself did not:

  1. I had an instructor who I could (and did) ask questions of.
  2. I had a time frame I needed to get work done within, which meant I actually did it.
  3. Strange as it may sound, paying money for the course made me take it seriously.

There are things, of course, that I missed:  Having a portion of the day specifically set aside for class.  The atmosphere itself (my living room is not conducive to learning). The ability to listen to a lesson instead of only having the option to read.  And mostly, the interaction (between students, the professor, and the lesson itself) that you get in a classroom is just not available in an online course.

Would I do it again?

Probably.  The price is right, and if I'm finding myself for some reason unmotivated toward something I'd like to learn, it seems an agreeable enough solution.


  1. YAY! Now you can write a grant for me!

  2. Yes, and write a grant for me too. LOL! I don't know what I need the grant for yet, but I'll think of something.

  3. You should get on the market for a job as an instructional designer. Having taught web-based and web-enhanced courses, and having learned, done and taught grant writing, I appreciate your comments. And I'm willing to help with any grants you're working on. :) Just let me know.

    Funny, though, how I think most of the comments/questions could be applied to the physical classroom as well. It's all about investment, on everybody's part. My line to new students in the class is always that I, much like them, have a life entirely outside school which often dominates my thoughts and feelings and distracts--especially when something really crazy or really great's going down. Like, for instance, the week of FURTHUR is gonna be rough! Then, I remind them that there is a lot of learning to be done outside of class, outside the confines of school. I finish by telling them that even though I know all of this to be true, when I am in the classroom with them (or virtually--but that's another thing), the only thing that matters is class, or more specifically, whatever we're learning or discussing or watching or listening to that day. It's a "be here now" moment. But, you can't just come out and say that because they all think you're a nutty hippie who doesn't have a life and reads books about irrelevant things all the time. Nothing worse in the world to a new freshman, I think. Of course, we're still in the first month of the fall semester, so perhaps I'm just letting off a little steam...

  4. Thanks for the comments, guys!

    And do you know anyone hiring, Ali? :P Thanks for the support, and I'm excited about the concert too.