There are advantages and disadvantages of online learning. I have taken several online and traditional courses throughout my college education, and I am sharing both what I have learned from personal experience as well from my readings of this subject.
Some of the main advantages of online learning over traditional classroom learning include the greater time and distance convenience which online learning generally provides — no need to worry about traffic or what to wear for class. Additionally, students have more control over the pace of their learning. This allows the student to spend more time on a unit which they have difficulty with while proceeding more quickly with easier topics.
In the fully asynchronous format, students are not required to be online at the same time. Lectures and assignments are posted online, and students can complete assignments at their own pace, as long as they meet the assignment deadlines. Some form of participation may be required, usually in the form of posting questions or comments on message boards. By contrast, in the synchronous format, students are required to be online at the same time to listen to a live lecture or to participate in a group discussion.
Some online programs supplement their programs with required in-person attendance at a colloquium. For example, please see http://www.capella.edu/interactivemedia/Colloquia/docs/ TheColloquiaExperienceFAQs.pdf. The purpose of a colloquium or other in person session usually includes building a sense of community, development of specific academic skills, as well as fostering mentoring relationships between faculty and students.
Disadvantages of online programs can potentially include less interaction between faculty and students and lower quality of instruction. I have anecdotally found that there is wide variability in the quality of online courses depending on the instructor. While some instructors take their online job seriously and are meticulous about regularly posting assignments, others use the relative anonymity of the internet as an excuse to slack off. Also, if you are a procrastinator, having a physical classroom with a professor asking you for an assignment may be more motivating than an online classroom with no one tracking you down. For one student’s view of online learning, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg3JsijJrR8.