As a lifelong learner, education comes in a variety of options. One of the more popular is online learning. Online learning has risen due to the flexibility of being able to learn wherever you want, at your own pace. With two formats: asynchronous  vs. live, you may be wondering, ‘What’s the difference and what’s right for me?’

Let’s take a high-level overview of both formats:

Self-Paced Learning

Asynchronous self-paced learning offers a variety of pros and cons. One of the most significant advantages is that many of the self-paced courses online are free or very affordable. If you aren’t sure that a particular path is right for you, starting with a free version to see if it interests you is an excellent option before committing to something more pricey.

Often with self-paced courses, the material is pre-recorded, which can be both good and bad. Pre-recorded sessions require discipline, so you aren’t cramming all 17 lessons into the last week. Holding yourself accountable for keeping up with the work is one of the most challenging parts. However, if you miss something or want to study, you can always go back and rewatch old lessons to brush up on the knowledge.

One of the most significant drawbacks of online learning is that it usually requires more effort. Sometimes learning at home versus learning in a classroom offers more distractions. I know I can’t get things done if my house is messy. However, the online classes I took in college covered topics I was very interested in, and I got a lot out of them because I cared about the subject. Pursuing online learning in a topic you are interested in is crucial because it makes you want to put in that extra effort. Alternatively, a study done by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University found that some students preferred online because they get distracted by other students in the classroom.

Another potential con for self-paced online classes is the lack of community and help that is available to you. Some self-paced courses don’t allow you to ask questions or interact with classmates. Having that support system is something a lot of people need when they’re learning, so they don’t feel isolated. However, some people prefer to work independently. It comes down to your learning style. In the same token, some self-paced courses provide live support from instructors, allowing you to get the format of self-paced while still having a sense of community from the school.

Online classes also offer flexibility. Pre-recorded sessions and tutorials allow you to take the courses at your leisure. That flexibility is especially beneficial to people with hectic lifestyles. Multiple jobs, children, social life – you can fit in classes where the time works best for you.

Live Online Sessions

Live, or synchronous, online classrooms provide a unique combination of in-person style classes that can still be taken remotely from your computer. The most obvious advantage of live online learning is…(drum roll) – you can do it anywhere! There are a multitude of reasons why taking a course from home may be best. You don’t don’t have to pay for gas or transit fares. If there is bad weather, you can throw on sweatpants before you take it. This is also beneficial to people who may want to learn from a school or bootcamp that isn’t in their area. You can get all of these significant benefits while still receiving the same education as in an in-person classroom.

Live online classrooms do require a time commitment so that everyone can meet. This can hold you accountable but sometimes eliminates the option to review old materials. However, you aren’t trying to beat traffic or waking up late trying it to make it in time for class. You can open your laptop and be ready.

Online courses and bootcamp programs generally are cheaper than in-person classes at a university. Bootcamps offer accelerated learning for hard skills as opposed to taking a full semester at a university (and usually at a portion of the cost). Bootcamps backed by universities also often allow these courses as a segway into higher-ed programs. This is an excellent option for people to test drive a Master’s degree before diving into the subject full-force. s.

In live sessions, you have the opportunity to engage with classmates and the professor. If you have a question, chances are someone else taking the class has the same question. Live sessions also allow you to build your network. Some of the best networking you can do for your professional career is with your classmates  – something you can’t get in the self-paced options.

Online learning, whether taught in live-sessions or in asynchronous, self-paced format, offers fantastic benefits towards becoming a lifelong learner. As long as you are disciplined and don’t mind putting in the effort, you can get a lot of great experience and knowledge from online courses. Choosing the format that is best for you is how you can get the most out of them. Always weigh your options, and do your research. There are many excellent choices available if an online course seems like it could be the right option for you!


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