I finished all my finals for Spring 2013 last week, meaning that I only need 6 hours to graduate with my MBA! I’ll be completing those hours online from the University of Texas at Dallas and graduating in August. HUZZAH! I’ve had quite a few people ask me about my experience with online vs. face-to-face classes, and I have to say bluntly that I hate online classes. This may be largely due to my personality and functional area, but several people have found my insight to be helpful, so I figured I should share it with all of you 🙂
Accessibility – Clearly, the most obvious pro of an online class is the ability to study anywhere. When I lived in Texas and started my MBA program, I knew that moving back to California prior to graduation was a possibility. Thus, it was very important to me to be able to easily finish my hours online if necessary. I’m able to access my classes during my normal routine, and I didn’t have to miss class during business travel.
Flexibility – Flexibility is enabled by accessibility. Since I can access my classes anytime, anywhere, I can re-arrange my schedule to accommodate studying as needed. Need to stay late at work on an emergency problem? No worries, I can push my lecture to later in the week. Happen to have an evening free? I can put in more discussion posts now.
Flexibility and Accessibility – These two pros are a double-edged sword, as professors are much less understanding about conflicts with scheduling. In theory, you should be able to find 2 hours SOMEWHERE in the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that exist. I didn’t really struggle with this, except when I was on my business trip to SXSW. We were literally working from 7am to 2am (yep, not a typo, 2am!) for 7 days straight, meaning that I had to push to complete my lectures ahead of time. Some classes lock down the lectures to make sure students pace through the class, so you can’t work ahead. For on-campus classes, you simply miss the lecture, miss the quiz, and you’re allowed a certain number of absences. In online classes, you don’t get this kind of leeway.
Discussion threads drag on – In a normal classroom setting, you have class discussions that run their course pretty quickly. Either you participate and get your points, or you sit quietly and the professor docks your grade. Unfortunately, many professors require a certain number of posts per topic to receive a full discussion grade. Thus, threads drag on far longer than they should or would in a face-to-face setting. Plus, responses like, “I agree” or, “Good point” often clog up the discussion boards, and in real life, these types of responses would be ignored or not happen at all, since most people know better than to raise their hand to say something with no value. Further, in an attempt to ensure the students are engaged, some professors put silly rules about logging in every other day, only contributing a certain number of posts per day, etc., which means that you can’t just jump in any time, you must schedule time to log in and contribute. This type of requirement defeats the pro of flexibility!
Project and case study coordination is frustrating – You never meet your team, and you rely on email or the group discussion boards. Often, projects are less cohesive and lower quality in online classes because you don’t have the usual back-and-forth collaboration that results in more creativity and effort. It’s also difficult to “present” a PowerPoint deck on the eLearning platform, so students end up straining their eyes to read terribly-designed slides to contribute to the discussion. (See con #2 above)
Lectures are boring – Sure, lectures can be boring in an on-campus setting, but man, lectures are BORING online! There’s no discussion, no body language, no interesting side notes, just monotone voices and text-heavy slides. I should acknowledge my own bias on both of these points. I work at a presentation design firm, so my threshold for bad slides has been significantly lowered. My functional area is creative, so the engineers and scientists probably don’t mind dry lectures, as the subject matter is very straight-forward. But yeah, I have trouble keeping my eyes open, no matter what time of day I tune in.
Scope creep – Again, this one might be specific to me, but I find that my degree is “running in the background” in my mind much more frequently with online classes vs. face-to-face. This is largely due to the fact that I don’t have a set time that requires me to go to campus, sit in a chair for 3 hours, and only focus on that. All other times, I can’t focus on the lecture because there is no lecture. It happens once a week for 3 hours, and that’s it, so it’s pointless to think about whether I should do the lecture now or later, eat before or after logging in, etc. I find myself logging in or feeling pressured about posting and scheduling much more frequently than I did when I attended class on campus. I was able to plan my weeks much better because the schedule was rigid. I try to stick to a rigid schedule, blocking out time for each class on a specific day, but with the posting requirements and lecutre release variability, it’s much more difficult.
Clearly, online classes are not for me, and I would not choose to do it this way in the future. I was only willing to do it for the last semester or two because I landed a position in the “dream job” category, but I would recommend against online training for an MBA. Anyone else have counterpoints to share?