Advantages of online learning

The Future of Higher Education: 18 Advantages of Online Learning

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Last Updated on March 12, 2024 by Alexandra Markin

As the world becomes more digitally connected, traditional classroom learning is no longer the sole avenue for acquiring knowledge and skills. The advantages of online learning now rival traditional methods of instruction, arguably putting some students who pursue online education ahead of their traditional learning peers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics in the United States, 59% of students were enrolled in distance education courses in postsecondary institutions in 2021. That’s a big number, and one I only expect to grow in years to come.

As on online Business Diploma graduate who’s engaged in both methods of higher education, online learning was by far the clear winner for me. There are such huge advantages of being an online college student!

If you’re thinking of taking an online certificate, diploma or degree, this post outlines 18 advantages of online learning you should consider if you’re looking for flexibility and accessibility with a personalized approach to learning.

Advantages of Online Learning in Higher Education

Advantages of Online Learning Infographic

1. Flexibility

The flexibility online learning offers allows students to tailor their education to their unique circumstances and needs. You can design your study schedule to fit your life, as opposed to fitting your schedule around the rigid agenda of attending in-person college classes.

In my opinion, the time freedom to set our own schedules and study at our preferred pace is one of the biggest advantages of online learning.

It’s perfect for people who:

  • Wish to continue working full or part-time
  • Have family commitments or are caregivers to elderly relatives
  • Live in a remote area where no suitable brick-and-mortar college is available
  • Have a disability which prevents them from (or makes it difficut to) attend in-person classes
  • Need or want to travel frequently (I’ve studied from a restaurant in London, a café in Barcelona and from a hotel lounge in San Diego!)
  • Prefer to learn at home in their own environment

Creating a personalized study schedule allows students to improve their learning. Some people are natural night owls who prefer to study at night, while others learn much better first thing in the morning.

2. Lower Overall Cost

When taking the entire cost of higher education into account, online degrees generally have a lower overall cost compared to traditional, on-campus degrees.

This is because online students don’t have the following major expenses:

  • Transportation costs to commute to and from class. These includes fuel, parking, road tolls and transit fares.
  • Student residence costs. You’re not living on campus, so you’re not paying for the cost of housing or meal plans.

In online courses, you’re often able to use the digital copy of the required textbook instead of going to the campus bookstore to purchase a physical copy. Digital textbooks are much cheaper, and you’ll also save on the cost of shipping the book to your home.

Because of the flexibility advantage online learning offers, students are often afforded the opportunity to work part-time or full-time jobs alongside their studies, therefore generating income to help offset educational expenses.

It’s important to note that doing an online degree doesn’t automatically mean the cost of tuition is cheaper. Some online colleges have higher tuition rates than traditional colleges.

Cost per credit is something every perspective online student should research carefully, especially if you’re on a tight budget.

Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR)

If you choose an online degree program in Canada, you may be eligible for PLAR – an unconventional cost saving opportunity when completing higher education.

PLAR stands for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition. It’s a process by which prior learning acquired by informal learning or work experience is counted towards certificate, diploma or degree programs in the place of formal course credits.

This can include:

  • Volunteer work
  • Paid work
  • Industry-based training
  • Professional development workshops and seminars
  • Continuing Studies courses
  • Private studies

Not only does this help you graduate faster, but it can shave thousands of dollars off your tuition bill!

The PLAR process is offered by Thompson Rivers University (TRU), where I took both my online Business Management Studies Certificate and my Business Management Studies Diploma.

3. No Commute Time

The absence of a daily commute is undoubtedly a significant advantage of online learning. By removing the need to travel to a physical campus or classroom, you’re able to take full advantage of opportunity cost.

“The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”

– Opportunity cost definition from the Oxford Languages dictionary

When my mom got her Master of Education in Early Childhood Education from The University of British Columbia, I watched her teach kindergarten all day, then get in her car as soon as the bell rang and drive an hour and a half to sit in class and not get home until 10:30pm, a typical day for someone who works and studies simultaneously.

After repeating that same gruelling schedule myself when I attended night classes at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), I wish I had found online learning sooner.

If I was to commute from my home to BCIT three times per week to attend in-person classes, that would be 6 hours (2 hours of commute time x 3 classes per week) of valuable time I could otherwise put towards studying.

Even if you take public transit to free up your attention to study while you commute, there is no guarantee you will have a seat to be able to take out your books or notes to study during peak commuter hours.

4. Wider Variety of Course and Program Choices (Resulting in Higher Grades!)

Online learning provides students with access to a significantly broader array of course and program choices, offering a compelling advantage over traditional in-person education.

Because you’re not bound by geographical constraints, you’re free to choose the program or course that best fits your personal and professional goals, rather than having to settle for the limited options offered by your home college.

This advantage eliminates a major source of stress in course planning that traditional college students face: having to take required courses or electives in a particular semester because that’s the only time they’re available. You might not want to take sociology as one of your electives, but sometimes you don’t have much choice depending on your course schedule.

With online learning, there is no hoping you’ll be able to get the course you need; instead, you’ll alway get to take the course you want.

Many online programs allow you to take approved courses at another institution and transfer the credits back to your program. This allows you to take courses you’re most interested in, resulting in achieving higher grades.

For example, while I was taking my Management Studies Diploma at TRU, I got approval to take Writing for the Web at BCIT – a course I really wanted that TRU didn’t offer. I ended up getting 91% (which is an A+ and 4.33 grade points), which was a huge boost to my overall GPA!

5.  More Study-Life Balance

One of my favourite advantages of online learning is the empowerment for students to shape their academic journey around their life, creating a more holistic approach to higher education.

The flexibility frees up more time for hobbies and healthy habits. You can literally take a quick break from studying, roll out your yoga mat and do a quick 10 minute workout video on YouTube and get back to studying. This is a great thing to do on a longer break in between study pomodoros.

Making time for your hobbies while studying may seem counterproductive, but it’s a huge benefit to have a focus outside of academics. In fact, a 2019 study published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. found that “[Students] who felt able to pursue hobbies and activities reported a better work-life balance and less stress.”

This research backs up of one of my biggest pieces of advice to all students: make time for your hobbies. I’ve written a few hobby idea posts to help you get inspired and build a more well-rounded life.

Although they are categorized by age groups, you can take up any hobby at any age!

Online students are at an advantages when it comes to carving out more time for the things they love.

See also: How to Stay Healthy as an Online Student: 9 Tips for Success

6. Fosters Career Advancement Alongside Studying

If you don’t want to give up building your career while upgrading your education, online learning can be the perfect option for you.

While working and studying is a lot to take on at once, with the right discipline, determination, and time management, achieving higher education and career growth simultaneously is not only feasible but the only option for many students.

There is no need to cut out early from work to get to an evening class on time, or sacrifice your whole weekend by attending in-person classes.

Online learning is also the perfect choice for career changes. You can study a completely different subject while working your current job in preparation for change – all without the need to tell your current employer anything.

Advantages of Online Learning Infographic

7. Improves Self-Discipline

Although this point could also be considered a disadvantage to students who struggle with procrastination, those that persevere will come out with both a degree and improved self-discipline skills that can be applied to all areas of their lives.

Because you aren’t told to attend class at a set time or hand in assignments at pre-determined dates, you have no choice but to learn how to build stronger self-discipline skills to get coursework done, especially in self-directed courses.

This is something I had to master when I started learning online. It wasn’t until I created a course study planner that my productivity really took off. You can buy the exact planner I used here.

The course study planner I used to stay on track in all my self-directed online courses.

Developing stronger self-discipline won’t just help you while learning virtually – it leads to better time management skills and higher personal achievement.

8. Continuous Access to Course Material

Unlike having to rely on your note taking skills (and looking back over your messy handwriting wondering what you’ve written), online materials are always available.

You can rewatch video lectures as many times as you need, adjusting the play speed, pausing, rewinding, etc.

All course material is at your fingertips any time of day. Easily explore modules at your convenience, email your instructor at any hour if you have a question, and delve into supplementary resources to improve your grasp of the subject matter.

9. Prepares for a Remote Workforce

If you’re thinking you might want to consider a remote job when you graduate, online learning is a great trial run to exercise the skills required in the online workforce.

I’ve been working online full-time since 2019, and I can say from experience the interactions you have with your instructors and classmates aren’t that different from real-world work scenarios. Sometimes you’ll email people and not receive a response for days, and there will always be that person who slacks off in group assignments.

The major skills you’ll need in the online workforce and online learning are parallel: completing your work in a timely manner with little direct supervision.

10. Learn New Technology Skills

In addition to the above point, strong technology skills are the foundation of the remote workforce.

No matter what your academic discipline is, whether it be a Bachelor of Arts, Science, Business, or Health Care, you’ll acquire new technology skills alongside your field of study.

After completing an entire program’s worth of technical hurdles, you’ll have a whole host of skills to add to your technical toolbox.

Theses are just a few examples of the tech skills I learned and/or perfected during my online diploma program:

  • Internet Research: Learn strategies to effectively search for information, verify sources, and extract relevant data from online sources.
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS): How to use platforms like Moodle and Blackboard for accessing course materials, submitting assignments, and taking assessments.
  • Troubleshooting Skills: The process to identify and address common technical issues such as software problems, internet connectivity (this was a big one, especially while I was travelling), and device compatibility.
  • Cloud Computing: Understanding cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive for document storage and collaboration.
  • Access Digital Materials: Learn how to purchase and use digital textbooks, browse your online college library and access academic articles.
  • Cybersecurity Awareness: Awareness of online security best practices to protect personal and academic information while learning online.

Computers represent the gateway to online learning, and being savvy with cybersecurity is an advantage of learning new tech skills.

Your whole life PLUS your studies are now online, and you should be using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect yourself. College is is huge investment of time and money, and the last thing you want to be dealing with before an exam is identity theft or a virus wiping out months of your hard work.

I’ve been using NordVPN since early 2020 and I highly recommend them. Even for students on a budget, you can protect yourself for only a few dollars per month. The peace of mind is worth every penny.

If you’re unfamiliar with VPN’s or want more information, read my post Do I Need a VPN as an Online Student? where I go into extensive detail why the answer to this question is yes.

11. Learn How to Communicate Virtually

Communicating virtually is a bit different than communicating in person becuase you can’t read non-verbal cues. In our world of online connection, one of the big advantages of online learning is refining your skills to communicate virtually.

During an online program, you’ll exercise virtual communication by:

  • Participating in discussion boards
  • Emailing your professor
  • Corresponing with your peers via messagaing platforms

You’ll also practice collaborating with classmates through video conferencing software like Zoom or Skype, along with learning etiquette for online discussion forums and group messaging boards.

12. Gain a Global Perspective

In this digital age, online learning extends beyond geographical boundaries and brings together a diverse community of learners from all corners of the globe.

Not all your classmates will be from your city. Many won’t even be from your state, and some will be from another country entirely. You’ll gain the perspective of different cultures and people with backgrounds different than yours.

In discussion boards, for example, someone with a coding background will offer a different perspective than someone with a marketing background, and you have a lot to gain from each point of view, even if you’re not participating in the conversation yourself.

This opens up a golden opportunity for global networking, putting online learners at an advantage over traditional students confined to the peer group of their class.

Advantages of Online Learning Infographic

13. Create a Personalized Study Space

“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour.”

– James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

Unless you’re taking all your classes in beautiful lecture halls an at Ivy League school, classrooms are often bare and uninspiring. There isn’t much to look at to remind you of YOUR personal goals while listening to your professor and madly trying to take notes.

With online learning, you have the luxury to design a personalized study space to influence your productivity EVERY time you sit down to study.

From pretty stationary to inspiring pomodoro timers to the perfect ergonomic desk chair, you can create a perfect study space that will evolve with you over time.

Everything you need is always right at your fingertips.

14. Study in a Comfortable Environment

To build on the above, online learning allows you to study in a cozy and comfortable environment.

There’s no need sit in dingy, freezing cold classrooms. When I took night classes during the winter at BCIT, there were times I had to keep my big jacket on throughout the entire lecture, and my hands were so cold it was hard to take notes.

In the summer, you won’t need to roast in classrooms that have no air conditioning, or broken air conditioning (as I experienced several times). Some departments have access to more funding than others, so if you’re taking classes in a building that lacks that excess funding, prepare to be some kind of uncomfortable.

There is no packing up a huge backpack to set off for the day. You don’t have to juggle an umbrella, bulky jacket, hat, coat, gloves, textbooks, your lunch and everything but the kitchen sink.

Especially as women, we naturally tend to carry around more stuff and our bags can get HEAVY. “Stuff freedom” is real, and is something I love about online learning.

Not to mention having to hike back to your car in the dark in the pouring rain, or squeezing onto a full bus with standing room only while you try not to hit anyone with your huge backpack.

15. Save Money by Eating at Home

When you’re commuting to and from class, it’s easy to stop and grab fast food or get coffee to go. Learning from home helps you save money on food as a student and eat healthier meals.

You can stop for a study break and make yourself a nice lunch, or put your laptop on the counter and listen to a video lecture while you cook dinner.

16. Graduate Earlier

Because most online courses allow you to learn at your own pace, you can finish a certificate, diploma or degree program faster than it takes a traditional, on-campus student.

Many online colleges allow you to be enrolled in two programs at once if they offer a laddering option. I took advantage of this when I was at TRU. I was finishing up the necessary credits to graduate from my Certificate in Management Studies program while I was already enrolled and actively completing credits towards my Diploma in Management Studies.

Get to the fun graduation part of college faster, like perusing relatable Spongebob graduation cap ideas.

17. More Accommodating for Life’s Challenges

Life never turns out exactly how you plan it, and it’s inevitable that you’ll experience personal challenges at some point in your life.

Online learning is much more lenient than rigid, in-person semesters when it comes to accommodating life’s challenges.

I personally experienced this in 2020. Not only was the world in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, my dad was diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer, forcing me to temporarily step away from my studies. Because I was (thankfully) enrolled in an online program, I was able to take a break to help my family without losing my tuition payment or missing any course deadlines.

Online colleges such as Thompson Rivers University give you 30 weeks to complete self-directed courses, plus an option for a (paid) extension of 16 weeks should you need one. They also permit longer breaks without penalty, allowing students to remain enrolled as long as a course is completed every two years. Because of this, students have the opportunity to complete programs in a somewhat unlimited time frame.

18. Open to Learners of All Ages

Whether you’re a professional looking to advance your career, a undergrad student seeking flexible options, or a retiree pursuing lifelong passions, you can adapt online learning to suit your needs.

Distance learning isn’t just for mature students who are busy with life and can’t get to a traditional campus. It’s a perfect choice for young adults who would rather get their degree from the comfort of their own home or while travelling the world.

There is no age barrier to entry. I know some pretty tech-savvy 60 and 70 year olds (I’m looking at you, mom!) and I truly believe you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

Next Steps for Prospective Online Students

Online learning is revolutionizing the way we acquire knowledge, catering to the demands of our increasingly busy lives.

However, all advantages are not without disadvantages. The online learning model isn’t for everyone. Before you go all in, make sure to carefully consider the flip side of the coin: the Disadvantages of Online Learning in Higher Education.

Is an Online Degree Right for You?

If after reading through the above advantages of online learning you decide to go ahead, the next step is choosing the right college or university. This decision is not to be taken lightly. As I share in my formal education journey story, it took me four whole months of careful research before I chose my online program.

Continue to the post How to Choose the Best Online Degree Program for detail on all the factors to consider when choosing your program.

Advantages of Online Learning – Conclusion

The advantages of online learning for college students is merely evident; these are things I’ve personally experienced and I can say with certainty this industry will only grow in the future.

Distance learning is available not only for higher education, but also for informal learning through platforms like Coursera, Udemy and edX at extremely affordable rates. Lifelong learning continues long after college, giving you the power to succeed throughout your entire life with the digital screen we have at our fingertips.

If you’re a prospective online student, sign up for my email list below and follow me on Instagram to join our online student community for support and study inspiration. You don’t have to go through your study journey alone!

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2 thoughts on “The Future of Higher Education: 18 Advantages of Online Learning”

  1. This is a great article – chock full of useful info. Some advantages I hadn’t thought of and I find intriguing. Cost is, by far, the biggest issue with higher education today. I realize I’m dating myself, but I went to a state university for 4 years and lived on campus for a grand total of $16K. Yes, it was only $4K/year for tuition, room and board, & books. A far cry from today’s price tag. 20-ish years later when my children were ready for college it was $30K/year. I can’t imagine the cost when my grandchildren will be ready.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience Darlene. That is quite the huge jump in cost between the time you went to school compared to when your children were ready for college – I can’t believe you only paid $4k per year, what a deal! Hopefully online learning will help bridge the gap for those that can’t afford on-campus higher education.

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