Online education debate just got interesting

Workers are evolving, students should too


Keep your home office clean and organized to help with productivity. (Dec. 6, 2021. The Patriot Press)

The latest Microsoft Work Trend Index Report offers some insight into an interesting trend that indicates a shift in work culture.  Among its findings, 73 percent of employees want the flexible remote work options, mostly induced by the pandemic, to stay. 

“The data is clear,” the report says.  “Extreme flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.  Employees want control of where, when, and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options.” 

In a world where the workforce is becoming more remote-friendly, and companies are re-envisioning the traditional work week, online education is becoming something that a student should seriously think about.  The training that online classes provide is a learned skill, something that we are not inherently successful at, and it is a useful tool in a modern economy. 

The debate about the value of online classes versus traditional, on campus classes, is ongoing, and the pandemic has provided even more data for the debate.  One of those data points is the cost of education, which is sending many students into the pressure cooker known as student debt. 

At CF, the tuition cost for an online class is the same as it is for an in-person class; however, the cost of education is more than just the dollar amount that a student pays.  This price is also made up of what you choose to give up when making that choice, or what economists like to call opportunity cost. 

For some students, especially non-traditional students, the amount of money you make while going to college is just as important as the amount that you must pay.  It all becomes part of the same equation, where your income minus your expenses equals your cash, and cash is quite a desirable commodity in the real world. 

Even if it’s a flexible part-time job like a restaurant server, just one in-person class can occupy two shifts that you cannot be available for when your manager writes your name on a work schedule.  Sometimes, that can be the difference between full-time employment and part-time employment, which can also bring benefits like health insurance into the equation. 

If you need to maintain full-time availability as a work requirement, or a benefits requirement, then being a full-time student on campus becomes a risk that not all students can take. 

An online course offers more flexibility for students to earn income while in school because you can usually prioritize your job, and fold in your academic work as needed.   

Online courses also save a student money in transportation costs because you don’t necessarily need to own a vehicle or take public transportation as frequently.   

The flip side of this is that an online class requires an internet connection and a computer, which not every student has access to, and this additional cost can be a barrier to entry into the world of online learning.   

Online students have full access to campus resources like the Learning Resource Center, and the city of Ocala has public libraries and community centers that offer free resources to help students overcome those barriers.  Unfortunately, the availability of that assistance is limited to specific hours of operation, and that limitation can be a real challenge for students that have jobs, or kids, or both. 

Online learning also negates the positive social impact that being on a college campus can provide, and most of us are inherently social creatures.  We have a desire to belong, to feel connected, and isolation goes against that very nature, which can be a challenge in terms of motivation.   

It’s easier to ask a question or engage in a helpful conversation if you are surrounded by other students pursuing the same goal as you are.  For this reason, choosing an online class over a traditional class setting isn’t for everyone and should be a decision that is discussed with an advisor.  

Each student has their own set of circumstances that goes into the equation, and for a non-traditional student like myself, the flexibility of online classes offers me a lot of value.  It offers the opportunity to organize my time in ways that fit the needs of my life, instead of organizing my life around my academic schedule.   

I understand the value of social interaction, but I don’t necessarily need it to be successful in my courses. 

Which brings me back to the crux of the matter, a new way to look at the educational value of online learning. 

Similar to Microsoft, Prudential weighs in on the debate in their most recent Pulse of the American Worker Survey, where they state that 68 percent of all workers polled say “a hybrid workplace model is ideal.” 

“This is a double-digit percentage point jump from a similar question in a survey fielded last fall,” the article said.  “It indicates that the positive aspects of remote work, such as flexible schedules and reduced commute times, outweigh the challenges of isolation and increased work hours that workers cited.” 

Much like the challenges of taking online classes, the ability to work from home requires self-discipline and total family support to achieve success.  Online courses offer freedom and flexibility, but they still require productivity, and you are left to meet the bulk of that requirement alone. 

1The author, William Cann, and his daughter Vivienne. The image encompasses both the value of working from home and the challenges that it creates. (Dec 6, 2021. The Patriot Press)

If you do not have the proper motivatioand organization, work can quickly add up and time can get away from you in a hurry. 

Online coursework can be very challenging, and I have found some great tips for success in online classes here.  There are two pieces of advice from that article that really stood out for me, and both have been indispensable in the pursuit of successful online learning.  

First, create a dedicated study space and keep it clean, a well-organized environment can help you be more productive. 

Second, stay mentally and physically healthy by taking breaks, getting up, and working in an exercise routine. 

For someone that wants to have a more versatile work-life balance, the training that you receive while being successful in online classes can help you prepare to be successful on the job as well. 

I have learned over the course of this pandemic that I value the flexibility of working from home.  It has become important to me, and to my family, and that will continue as I navigate this changing economic landscape moving forward. 

I am thankful that I had an opportunity to develop distance learning skills, and to become familiar with the technology necessary for success in a distance learning environment.  For what I want to do, these skills are necessary, and I cannot say that I had them 2 years ago. 

It is important to remember that we are human, and that social interaction elevates us and supports us in our endeavors.  The traditional classroom will always be important due to these benefits, but technology is moving us forward and we cannot be afraid to use that technology to enhance our lives. 

Finding that balance is the key to navigating the very complex and challenging landscape that is the modern college campus experience.     

Headshot, William Cann.