Over the past decade, the number of college students enrolled in online courses has exploded. The Sloan Consortium reported that in 2011, more than 6.1 million students had taken at least one online course in the previous academic year, accounting for nearly one-third of all higher-education students nationwide. Students who welcome online learning opportunities appreciate its pacing, flexibility and convenience, while others balk at its lack of face-to-face interaction and potential for technical hiccups. If you’re considering taking online courses, first consider the pros and cons that accompany a virtual academic experience.

Flexible Schedule

The convenience of a flexible schedule is a primary reason students choose to enroll in online classes. Most of them allow you to log in at any time of day or night, which is especially helpful if you have a full-time job, are raising children, or both. Moreover, as long as you have a computer and access to the Internet, you can participate in the class at home, on your lunch break at work or in the cafe down the street.

Course Pacing

Online classes allow the freedom to accelerate or decelerate learning at your own pace. If you’re readily grasping the course content, you may be able to fast-forward through the curriculum or test out of certain assignments. Likewise, if you’re having trouble understanding a concept, you can slow down the pace and review the materials as much as you need to in advance of exams or projects.

Affordability

Another attraction of online learning is its cost. Because it eliminates campus living, meal plans, commuting costs and other extraneous fees, online learning programs can cost significantly less than traditional on-campus learning, even if the tuition costs are the same. While each school in each state has different fees associated with it, many universities, such as Colorado State University and the University of Pittsburgh, have begun to offer online programs that are as highly accredited as their traditional brick-and-mortar programs, but eliminate the fees associated with on-campus living or commuting.

Lack of Interaction

One of the biggest complaints students have about online learning is that it eliminates face-to-face communication with instructors and classmates. This can lead to a sense of isolation, especially if you are struggling with the material or feel as if you are falling behind. Unlike a traditional course, the instructor may not always be available when you need him to be and this can lead to even more frustration.

Distraction and Motivation

If you’re the type of student who is easily distracted or tends to procrastinate, online learning might not be a good fit. Because it lacks a typical routine, students who enroll in online courses or programs need to be highly self-motivated and have disciplined study habits. Otherwise, the lure of the TV, the Internet, or even the laundry might just be too much to avoid.

Technical Issues

If you don’t have much experience working with computers, you may be overwhelmed by an online course’s technical requirements. Many online courses require you to upload and download files, participate in message boards and sometimes use an online whiteboard. Older computers and software programs or a slow Internet connection can compound these issues.