A third of all students now take online courses. Although the reasons why vary, there are several key benefits to learning virtually—from increased flexibility to lower costs.

But online courses aren’t for everyone. Some individuals want to engage with faculty face-to-face or need the in-person touchpoints to stay on track and motivated.

If you’re mulling over the decision to take an online class, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons against your career goals and preferred learning style. To help you decide, here are some advantages and disadvantages to learning online.

Pros of Online Learning

1. You Can Learn on Your Time


Online courses offer unparalleled flexibility, particularly for undergraduate students trying to learn a new skill outside of their major or working professionals already juggling a full-time job. You can complete coursework when it’s convenient for you, whether that’s after work or during your lunch break.

You can also schedule your learning around when you’re most likely to retain new information. Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, you can log in whenever is the optimal time for you.

2. You Can Learn at Your Speed


Some students don’t feel comfortable raising their hand in class and asking the professor to reexplain a topic their peers already seem to grasp. In an online learning environment, you can pause videos or return to concepts covered in previous modules. You can dive deeper into a particular topic instead of skimming over it.

3. You Can Save Money


While there are many free online courses, even those that aren’t still typically cost less than their on-campus counterparts. By learning virtually, you eliminate room and board fees, as well as any commuting costs. And because there’s greater flexibility, you can simultaneously earn a paycheck and an education.

Related: Should You Take an Online Course? 9 Things to Consider

4. You Can Break Down Geographic Barriers


When choosing an online program, you’re not limited by location. You can register for a program abroad without needing to board a plane.

The lack of geographical constraints extends to your peers, too. Online courses offer the opportunity for you to engage with fellow learners from around the world. Through that interaction, you can gain a global perspective and learn how to work collaboratively with people from different backgrounds and countries—skills employers say they look for in candidates.

Credential of Readiness (CORe) - Master the fundamentals of business. Learn more.

5. You Can Gain Practical Tech Skills


Completing an online course proves you’re comfortable with technology, which could positively impact your resume as more companies embrace remote work. Showing you’re familiar with digital tools, know how to communicate effectively, and can stay organized are all traits employers look for. And those are the same traits you’ll pick up in an online class.

6. You Can Achieve Similar Career Outcomes


There are several misconceptions about online learning—particularly that you won’t achieve the same outcomes or respect from employers that you would by attending an on-campus program. But that’s not always the case.

In a recent survey by City Square Associates, 50 percent of learners reported receiving more attention from recruiters after completing a Harvard Business School Online course, while one in four said they received a promotion or title change. An online certificate from a reputable institution can have the same, or even better, impact on your resume than a more traditional degree.

Related: 6 Networking Tips for Online Learners

Cons of Online Learning

1. You Might Have Limited, If Any, Interaction with Faculty


Depending on the type of online program you choose, you could have limited, if any, interaction with the professors. Your peers may be able to fill that void and answer your questions, but you should consider the level of faculty engagement you need to feel like you’re making progress.

2. You Can't Be Disorganized


Completing an online course requires time management and self-discipline. Because you’re not required to be in class on certain days each week, it’s your responsibility to set aside time to study and work through assignments. If you’re highly organized and can commit to a schedule, then you should succeed in an online environment.

Related: 3 Time Management Tips for Online Learners

3. You Might Have Potentially Fewer Networking Opportunities


Depending on the course you choose, there could be fewer opportunities to network with peers. If the social element is crucial to you, choose an online learning platform built around peer interaction and active participation, or perhaps even offers events.

For example, at Harvard Business School Online, more than 60 percent of surveyed past participants say they feel part of a community with similar aspirations.

4. You Really Need to Do Your Research


With more than 11,400 free massive open online courses available alone, the options can be overwhelming.

As you’re compiling research, jot down the qualities you want in an online education to help whittle down the list. Is earning a credential vital to you? Do you want a more immersive, interactive experience instead of engaging solely with videos? By knowing your preferences, it will be easier to spot and eliminate programs that aren’t the right fit.

5. You Can't Always Find Industry-Specific Online Training


Despite the abundance of online courses, there are still limited opportunities for more specialized industries. But if you’re committed to advancing your career, there are business skills that can help you no matter your profession and online courses that can fill gaps in your skillset.  

6. You Might Need to Fight Against Misconceptions


Although online learning is growing in popularity, there’s still some lingering skepticism. That’s changing, though; in a survey of executives, 83 percent said that an online degree is just as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based program. According to employers, if the online program was from a reputable institution with high-quality learners, it was deemed more credible.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Online Learning

Only you can decide if online classes are for you, based on your unique personal and professional goals and preferred learning style. For many working professionals interested in advancing their careers, online courses offer the flexibility and convenience they need to balance developing new skills with their current life stage and job responsibilities.

Are you interested in taking an online course? Explore our course catalog, including our Credential of Readiness (CORe) program, which will prepare you to contribute to business discussions and decision-making.

Lauren Landry

About the Author

Lauren Landry is the associate director of marketing and communications for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at Northeastern University and BostInno, where she wrote nearly 3,500 articles covering early-stage tech and education—including the very launch of HBS Online. When she's not at HBS Online, you might find her teaching a course on digital media at Emerson College, chugging coffee, or telling anyone who's willing to listen terribly corny jokes.