10 Common Misconceptions about Online Courses

by Justin York | Feb 14, 2017
10 Misconceptions About Online Learning
If you’re thinking about taking an online course, but are a bit hesitant, this post will help dispel some common misconceptions concerning online courses. Taking courses and learning online can be just as rewarding and educational as your more traditional, face-to-face classes, with the added benefit of taking them on your own schedule. So let’s begin.

Misconception 1: Online courses are easier than face-to-face courses
Perhaps the most common misconception about online courses, students enroll in online courses thinking they’ll get an easy A. Students quickly realize that these courses are just as demanding, and in some ways more demanding, than face-to-face courses. Instructors expect the same quality of work from students and assign the same amount of work as they would in face-to-face courses, but often in a shorter amount of time. This means students aren’t losing out on any content and have just as many opportunities to learn that content, and sometimes in more interesting ways, as you would in a face-to-face curse. 

Misconception 2: There is no time limit for completing a course
This is a holdover from the early days of online learning when many courses were self-paced and you could take as long as you wanted to complete them. In our current day and age, many online courses are part of degree programs and have set time periods, from 4-16 weeks on average. And if you don’t complete the course within the specified time frame, you run the risk of failing the course. So make sure you know how long the course is and how much work is required (try talking to someone who has taken the course before, for instance), as well as what other time commitments you have, before enrolling in any online course.

Misconception 3: The quality is lower
Similar to the misconception of online courses being easier, many people still think the quality of online courses is lower; that online courses aren’t held to the same standards as traditional courses. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure, there are online courses that are designed poorly, with the content delivered haphazardly, and organized terribly. But the same is true for traditional courses. Instead, many online courses go through a design process that ensures not only that the course is well organized, but that the content (readings, lectures, exams, etc.) is delivered in a way that conforms to best practices for online learning and learning in general. 

Misconception 4: Online courses don’t transfer
Many students worry that online courses won’t transfer, either to other undergraduate institutions if they choose to change schools, or to advanced degree programs. While you do need to check with your institution to ensure what courses transfer, many universities view online courses as being just as transferable as traditional courses. 

Misconception 5: It’s difficult to get a hold of your instructor
There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to contact your instructor when you need clarification on that week’s material, or when requesting an extension on a due date, or when something isn’t available within the course when it’s scheduled to be. Luckily, most online instructors understand the importance of being in regular contact with their students and offer multiple ways to do so. From email to Q & A forums, from virtual office hours to regular announcements, instructors offer several options for communicating with them. No need to worry, your instructor is just a tippy-tap away. 

Misconception 6: There’s no interaction with other students
This misconception needs to die. Peer-to-peer learning is central to online courses, and online learning in general. There are many ways to interact with other students, from discussion forums to group projects involving creating wikis, presenting group projects using web conferencing tools like Zoom or Skype, and engaging in peer review of different kinds. In fact, many online courses require regular peer interactions multiple time per week or unit, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to interact and learn from other students in the course.

Misconception 7: Online courses require less time
Online courses are usually offered in shortened semesters while still covering the same amount of material, so in some sense, this isn’t a misconception. However, people misunderstand the time commitment for online courses in thinking that because they are shorter in length, there must be less material covered. That couldn’t be less true. That means you’ll usually have the same assignments, readings, and lectures to cover in 8 weeks that you would in an average 16-week course. In this sense, then, students need to spend more time working through the material in online courses than they would in traditional courses. This is important to keep in mind so you don’t overcommit yourself.

Misconception 8: Cheating is more common and easier in online classes
This misconception is understandable. You might think: “Hey, the class is online, so why wouldn’t someone take advantage of all those resources?” However, there’s no clear indication that cheating happens more often in online courses than it does in face-to-face courses. In fact, instructors utilize various means to protect the integrity of their courses. There are services instructors use, such as ProctorU and Turnitin, to guard against cheating and plagiarism. Some instructors utilize open note and open book tests, while others might forgo exams in favor of projects or portfolios. Whatever the case, instructors and course designers make it a top priority to protect the integrity of student learning.

Misconception 9: You have to be very tech-savvy to take an online course
It’s true you do need some basic technology skills, such as how to connect to the internet or navigate a browser, but in general, many of the tools and programs you’ll be working with have familiar aspects. Furthermore, many online courses offer various tutorials and links to help documentation in case you have questions or run into problems. And, lastly, your instructor and other students are great resources to turn to when you run into trouble with the assignments or activities your course requires.

Misconception 10: Anyone can succeed in an online course
Success in an online course is a combination of several factors, but one of the most important factors is time management. As you won’t have someone to remind you in person that something is due the following class period, it’s up to you to turn everything in on time, so you need to make sure you’re managing your time well in order to get everything done you need to. That being said, one of the benefits of online learning is that you can engage with the material on your own schedule. So if you’re a morning person, you can get your work done early and have the rest of the day to work on other things. If you’re a night owl, great, online courses accommodate your schedule too. Of course, you’ll need good the same study habits, writing skills, the ability to communicate clearly, etc., that you’d need in traditional courses. But success in an online course is as much about how you manage the work required as it is about the amount of work you put into the course. Don’ worry, you go this!

As you’ve probably realized, there’s plenty of misconceptions about taking online courses out there, and hopefully this post has helped clear up some of those. Only you can decide if online courses work best for you, but think about this, what if they do? Ask a friend, email an instructor, and reread this post. Then, sit down and really consider online courses; they could be just what you’re looking for in your education.