onlinevstraditionalThere are many options for completing a degree in social work. Programs and colleges can vary widely in their class types and statistics. One of the most important questions today is whether it is better to complete a college degree in class or online. The answer to that question has a lot to do with your schedule and budget. One of the most important factors is also the type of learner you are.

The Advantages of Distance Learning Programs

Online education has become so prevalent that almost any degree, including social work, can now be obtained exclusively online. This learning method has taken off for many good reasons.

The number one advantage to online learning is its flexibility and freedom. There are usually due dates for assignments, but there are no set class times. Students are free to do their work whenever they want and from any location where they can get internet access. Class information can be accessed on a computer, iPad or even a smart phone. This aspect is especially important for returning students who may already work a full time job or simply have obligations that prevent them from keeping a normal class schedule.

Online programs tend to be cheaper per credit than on-campus classes overall. This makes sense because they are much cheaper to run. There have also been experiments with mass online programs that are free, but these are currently a mixed bag as to their effectiveness. The simple fact is that students with a tight budget may lean toward online classes on cost alone.

Many students find it hard to keep the pace in a traditional classroom. Sometimes the students may want to take more time with a subject than the professor allows, or they may be ready to jump to the next topic quickly. Rather than being forced to follow the pace of the professor, online students can set their own pace. The can progress through certain topics more slowly or jump ahead when they want to.

The Disadvantages of Distance Learning Programs

Online learning is not an all positive approach to learning. There are things sacrificed when school is done entirely through a computer.

Face-to-Face Interaction

Many online programs claim have to the same level of student and teacher interaction as on-campus programs, but this is rather hard to believe. Even with programs that make extensive use of discussion boards, chat rooms and even video logs it cannot make up for the direct interaction of a classroom. It is more difficult to ask questions of either the professor or peers, and having a true discussion is almost impossible. This can be especially problematic for some types of degrees, especially those for jobs with a high level of social interaction. In-class programs allow students to practice many of the skills they are learning on real people. Social workers are often in very difficult social situations. If they have no chance to practice the social skills they learn in their programs, they may not be able to as effectively use those skills when it matters.

Accredited Programs
While this problem is steadily disappearing, there may still be an issue with finding a program that seems like a right fit but is also accredited. Accreditation is very important for social workers. They are most likely to be hired by government or medical agencies and they will be required to hold licenses that demand completion of an accredited program. It is basically impossible to “freelance” or do some sort of private practice as a social worker, so accreditation is extremely important for this degree type.

Differences in Learning Style

The decision to pursue a social work degree online or in-class may be determined by any of the above factors, but there is a one factor students should consider even more carefully. What kind of learner are you?

If you aren’t sure, consider how you did your work in past college or even upper level high school programs. Did you need a lot of teacher interaction? Did you remember information better when it was spoken or written? Are you a fast and competent reader? Did you always turn in assignments on-time, or were they often late? Did you need lots of reminders to get work done?

After this small self-diagnostic consider that online learning programs require students to be highly self-motivated. Nobody will be reminding you to complete assignments. If you miss due dates, then that’s the end of the line. Also keep in mind that you will be gaining the vast majority of information by reading. Except in rare cases, you will never hear the teacher or anybody else talk. If you are highly auditory, or someone who remembers spoken better than written words, online programs may be very difficult to complete.

On the other hand, highly self-directed and independent learners excel in the online environment, and they are often shown to learn more than their in-class counterparts.