My on line class with the University of Illinois, at Chicago (UIC) just ended my first experience with long distance learning. The pros to this kind of class are instantly appealing. You don't have to spend time commuting. You save money on gas. There is less wear and tear on your car. You don't have to worry about the professor calling on you. You can get his attention whenever you want. And you can learn almost anything these days on line.
The cons are a little bit harder to describe. If you aren't too computer savvy, sometimes the software is irritating. For my class we had a discussion board where students and teachers alike posted comments. However, finding the thread to the conversation was tricky. I was three weeks into a six week class before I figured out how to load it via three, in lieu of just all the unread messages. Even after I was able to separate out a thread, the software prohibited looking at the whole conversation at once, the way you can with an email which has been replied to. I was so comfortable and used to having all the older comments available on one long page, I was annoyed by the nature of having to reopen each previous comment to see what was being responded to.
Another con was the lack of traditional lectures. Back in the day, when I attended a full four year university we received reading material in addition to getting lectures. The reading material supplemented the lecture. IF we had a question on either, we met with the professor during his or her office hours. With the on line class we had only reading material, assignments, and comments on the discussion board. I felt I was taught as much by my fellow students as I was by the teacher. I suppose that is the future of education. Except what if your fellow students don't know much? Or what if what they think is wrong?
Something to beware of, is that some online schools are not accredited. I felt very safe with a University of Illinois class because their physical campus is well established and well known. Some other on-line schools basically exist to take people's money. The Obama administration may even provide Pell grants to the schools, but that doesn't mean what they are teaching is going to help you. Search very carefully, and check out consumer reports. It is simple to use a search engine to find blogs and comments on online schools. That five minutes of research could save you a lot of money and headache.
I learned a lot from my grant writing class. The module was structured to take us through the process of writing an imaginary grant, starting with finding a funder all the way to the final project of turning in an complete proposal. Some of my classmates already had jobs at non-profit organizations and had very real projects they were working on. That was interesting. If I had taken the class like this back in college I doubt I would have had a working professional in the field as a classmate. Some of my class mates were from other countries and that was interesting too. The people who contributed the most were very friendly. You wouldn't think you could bond so well to people you don't see, and yet you can.
One must be very self directed to do well with an online class. No one takes attendance, no one chastises you for late assignments. Once you've paid the money you are on your own. For a person just starting out in college this might be difficult. In high school teachers chase after you. Less so at a physical university. Not at all with an on-line class. In the "what to expect" information at the beginning the directions said "expect to spend about 2 hours a day on your class." I think that is about right. You don't have to do it every day, if you load up three or four on one day and take a few days off, or if you read faster than average. Even if you took a class that you attended in person, two hours a day would be what you would spend reading, doing assignments and hearing lectures.
I liked how our professor responded within 24 hours to anything we asked or posted assignments. We didn't have to wait for everyone else to finish to receive our assignments "back." In fact for a person interested in learning, you can get so much more attention on an online class. Plenty of people barely participate. We had about 50 spaces in our class, but only about four people were really on it, and about 15 that I could tell did every project.
We had one technical problem during the class which was devastating to some of the participants. One who had taken several on line courses swore she would never be back. Other's received a full refund in exchange for a spot on the next time the course was offered in September. For a person who could afford to wait that was an excellent deal. They would receive one and three fourths of a class for the price of one. For me and several others though, the idea of waiting months and starting all over again was more time than we had. I wanted the information so I could get to job hunting already. For us, the University offered a $100 refund. That was very fair. So I will say, I am NOT turned off to on line learning despite the website crash and the one technical snafu.
On line learning is probably easier if you have grown up with Facebook and emailing and you are familiar with the idea of links and info all over the place. I had expected to have to buy at least one textbook for the class, and there was none. All of the reading material was provided via links. This saved us a lot of money, however unless you print out the material, you can't high light it or save it very effectively. I saved in on my laptop, but I couldn't pull it out and read it in bed like a book
All in all, I would say the experience was a grand success.