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The Rise of Online Learning and What It Means for Adults Going Back to School

The Rise of Online Learning and What It Means for Adults Going Back to School

For over a decade, distance learning has been steadily changing the way students pursue degrees. In the fall of 2018, 35.3 percent of all college students took at least one distance learning class. More than 16 percent did all of their learning remotely. 

In the early days, demand for online learning was driven by a need for convenience. However, as more students discovered remote learning, it increased accessibility, especially for those with disabilities or at geographic disadvantages. Fast forward to today, and the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated that distance learning isn’t just a niche tool for some students—it’s something all students can use to learn quickly and safely on their own terms. Remote learning offers a powerful opportunity to adults going back to school, many of whom might never be able to complete a degree in a traditional setting. 

Online Learning: A Growing Trend 

Traditional classrooms offer many benefits: a chance to make friends, to practice social skills, and to network. They also present a wide range of challenges, especially to students with special needs and those with busy schedules. COVID demonstrated that even for students who previously thrived in traditional settings, a classroom can be a breeding ground for dangerous infections. 

You don’t have to sacrifice professional networking, friendships, and the myriad other benefits of traditional classrooms. Quality online learning tools allow students to practice soft skills and course material at the same time, contributing to growing popularity of online learning. 

Without a doubt, COVID has greatly increased the number of students enrolled in distance learning. It’s too early to have hard figures, but it’s likely that a majority of students enrolled during the 2019-2020 school year took at least one course online. In many cases, students may have switched overnight from a totally in-person model to all remote classes. Now that students across the globe have experienced the convenience of online learning, they may not want to return to traditional models. 

Is an online degree program ideal for your life situation? Download our guide,  What to Expect from an Online Degree Program, to find out!

Benefits of Online Learning 

In the early days of the pandemic, it was easy to focus on the shortcomings of online learning when teachers and campuses were poorly prepared. With the right technology, though, online learning can be a great option for all learners. Some reasons to consider an online degree include: 

  • Cost savings: You’ll also save money on childcare, transportation, clothing for class, and other common school-related expenditures. 
  • Better time management: Time is a finite resource. Reclaim some of yours by spending less time commuting, finding a parking space, and walking to class. 
  • Comfort: For some students, classroom settings can be intimidating. Attend school from the comfort and safety of your own home. Online degrees are a great option for students with anxiety. 
  • Better grades: Academic barriers aren’t the only reason students miss class or get bad grades. Something as simple as having a long commute can mean the difference between showing up for a lecture and scrambling to borrow notes. When all you have to do is turn on a computer, it’s easy to focus on your coursework. 
  • Better work-life balance: Whether you’re raising kids, juggling household responsibilities, climbing the career ladder, or all of the above, adding another obligation can feel daunting. When you can take classes anywhere, an online degree program becomes more feasible. 
  • Easier for your kids: Online degrees require real work, so you’ll still need childcare. If your kids have separation anxiety, though, an online degree is a great option. You’ll spend less time away, and you can take quick breaks to tend to your children. 

Is a Quality Online Degree Really Possible? 

Many adults returning to school worry that online degree programs are not as good as traditional options. The data shows otherwise. Most employers accept online degree programs, particularly from accredited institutions like SNU. Not to mention that, the curriculum of an online degree is identical to the in-person option. What’s more, you may actually get a better education online. You won’t be rushed and stressed as you dash from work to school and back again, and you can customize your learning environment to ensure it works perfectly for you. 

Many online learners are able to graduate more quickly thanks to a streamlined schedule, flexible class options, and the ability to get credit for prior learning. Graduating faster means you’ll spend less on your degree and begin your career faster. If your goal is to live the life you deserve, a virtual program may offer the fastest, most affordable route. 

What to Expect from an Online Degree Program 

Every program is different. Quality programs focus on helping students master key career skills while delving deeply into course material. Look for a program that: 

  • Helps you build a professional network. You should have opportunities to get to know other students through virtual meet-ups and study groups, as well as in-person events. SNU’s innovative cohort model helps students form lasting relationships with the people who will one day be their colleagues. 
  • Caters to many different learning styles. Look for technology that promotes discussion, critical thinking, and a chance to talk with your professor as often as necessary. 
  • Hires industry experts to teach. Professors should hold advanced degrees or be respected leaders in their field. They should also be skilled and accomplished educators who inspire and engage students. 
  • Supports you to succeed. Distance learning should not mean you do everything alone. A helpful financial aid office, quality disability services, and a commitment to veterans all ensure that a diverse group of students can thrive. 

Tips for Adults Going Back to School 

The return to school is a big decision—not something you can rush into on a whim. With the right strategy and a little support, even students who have struggled in other learning environments can thrive online. These tips can help you make the most of your program:

  • Get into a family routine before you go back to school. This way your children get the support they need as you take classes. 
  • Recruit a support network of friends and family who can be cheerleaders, provide childcare, and remind you why you’re doing this. 
  • Talk to your spouse to figure out how you intend to divide up household labor. 
  • Make a list of why you’re going back to school. If a college degree were easy to get, everyone would have one. There will be difficult times. Prepare for them by making a list of your key motivators now. 
  • Ask about scheduling options at work. Many employers are happy to adjust your schedule, particularly if your degree is relevant to your job. 

How to Choose the Right Online Degree Program 

Don’t just sign up for the first online degree you find. Ask lots of questions, including: 

  • What is the school’s graduation rate?
  • How long, on average, does it take to complete this program? 
  • What percentage of students have a job six months after graduation?
  • What financial aid support do you offer? 
  • What specific technological platforms do you use for classwork? 
  • How does your school support online learners? 
  • Is your school accredited, and by whom? 

SNU commits to the success of each and every student. We know that all learners bring something unique to our community. Our goal is to inspire our students to put their valuable individual gifts to work, thriving in academic institutions and using meaningful careers to change the world. To learn more about the benefits of an SNU degree for adults going back to school, check out our free guide, What to Expect from an Online Degree Program.

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