10+ Pros and Cons of Teaching Online (for University Teachers)

online college teaching pros and cons

I have been teaching online courses for 5 years now. I’ve also got 3 years’ experience teaching on campus at universities.

When I moved to teaching online, I was over the moon. The benefits for me clearly outweighed the costs.

But I have very close friends who took a long hard look at teaching online and decided it wasn’t for them.

In fact, when the idea of teaching online popped up in our staff meeting there were crickets. I seemed to be the only person excited about the idea!

So, I wanted to take a look at the pros and cons of teaching online to see if it’s right for you.

(P.S. This is the sister post to my post on pros and cons of studying online for students.)

The Pros

The pros being an online university teacher, for me, far outweigh the cons. I love my flexible lifestyle. And I’m going to keep teaching online for another few years at least. Here are my top pros of my online teaching life:

1. Set your own Timetable

This is by far my Number 1 pro.

Most of the people I work with in the Online department at my university are young mothers. They work from home so they can care for their kids while still drawing an income.

It’s an amazing gig for them.

They can drop everything and run to the shops to get medications for their kids whenever they need. They can arrange play dates in the middle of the day. And of course, they don’t have to pay for childcare.

It’s a real lifesaver for these mums.

And for me, a single 30-year-old male?

I wake up at a leisurely pace, go out for coffee, bring my laptop, and enjoy the atmosphere while checking my online forums.

2. Get some Distance from your Boss

If you’ve got a persistent, annoying, nagging boss – this life is for you.

When you work online, you work from home. This means the boss can still nag … but you have that distance that means you don’t need to deal with their nonsense all day long.

They can’t hover over your shoulder. Literally.

I’ve had one or two annoying bosses while working online. They’ll email me a thousand times a day. And it can still get bothersome. But not having them physically there breathing down my neck takes the edge off it.

To deal with this, I usually just check my emails twice a day: once in the morning (during my delicious morning coffee at the café on the corner) and once in the afternoon. A 10am and 5pm timetable for me, thanks.

That means even with my annoying bosses, I segment their annoying (and usually pointless) emails to a tiny fraction of my working day – freeing me up for a happier working life.

(P.S The ‘only check your emails twice a day’ trick seems to be a recurring theme in most productivity literature these days – and it works really well for me.)

3. Time to think before Responding

To build on the above point, there are many, many days when I love that my only contact with students is via email.

Don’t get me wrong – sometimes I miss classroom teaching – and I’ll share my thoughts on that later in the post. But here, for the pros, this has to be said.

If a student sends me a rude, snarky or difficult email, I can go sweep the floor of my kitchen and just ruminate on it for a few minutes.

This is especially useful when I get a question that really stumps me.

Before, when teaching face-to-face, I needed to be on my game. I needed to come up with an engaging, intelligent answer within seconds of the question being asked.

Now, I think. I mull over my answer.

I genuinely believe having time to think about my answers to my students and put them down in words has made me a better teacher.

I craft my emails carefully, I break down points, I research them, and I end up giving my students clear, detailed and thoughtful answers every time.

It’s a stress-free life.

4. Live Remotely

I live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.

I live 10 minutes from my ski hill. I have boundless hiking trails in summer. I have a hot tub in my backyard.

And I work 8,204 miles away … in Melbourne, Australia.

Talk about work-life balance!

In my 5 years teaching online, I’ve lived in England, backpacked Europe, taught a lesson on a yacht in the Mediterranean (although the internet issues stuffed that up), and since living in Canada never missed a day of fresh powder on the slopes.

Wow … writing this point has given me pause to reflect on just how good the gig is. This pro is by far the jewel in the crown for me.

I’m also thinking really hard at the moment about moving to Cartagena, Colombia for 6 months where, again, I won’t take any additional financial hit because I can work on the beach.

5. Avoid the Traffic

I think ‘Avoid the Traffic’ is my shorthand way of saying ‘save a lot of time’.

I’m way more productive working online. Not only do I have zero travel time in my day (okay, it does take a minute to walk to the café), but I also don’t lose time making small talk with colleagues, waiting for students to ream into lectures, or attending entirely pointless meetings.

I’ve banked all this saved time and invested it into my blog.

Maybe one day I’ll make enough money off the blog for it to cover the financial loss that I took from working online.

But I digress.

The key takeaway from this point is that you’ll save a lot of time that waste but didn’t realize was wasted when working on campus. And you can re-invest that saved time into whatever’s important to you: family, hobbies, or side income opportunities.

The Cons

The downsides of teaching online, I believe, can be minimized with a bit of hard work. But there’s a few deal breakers in this list, for sure. I’d say points 7 and 8 below are the ones that turn most people off.

So, weight it all up for yourself before making up your mind:

6. Working out of Hours

In my first three years of working online I fell into the trap of working constantly.

I took the guilt of skipping work to go shopping in the middle of the day and re-invested it in working late in the night.

And there are still times I do work out of the 9-5 hours, but I think teachers are by and large guilty of this no matter where they work.

The one caution I’d give to a new colleague in my Online department is to compartmentalize work and non-work time.

This means not checking work emails when you’re on the computer doing your own thing.

But it also means blocking social media when it’s time to get to work on your actual job.

As we move towards more and more flexible working conditions, we need to keep in mind that it’s increasingly our own responsibility to manage our work hours. For me, that means checking emails only twice a day, logging onto my students’ discussion forums for one hour only every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and letting students know that I’ll respond to them within 24 hours, not immediately.

7. Loneliness

This is the one everyone stresses about.

Working online does mean you’re not in touch with your colleagues. And for many, this is a 100% deal breaker.

I guess the question you have to ask is simply:

Can I live without the companionship of my colleagues?

For me, it was a really fresh change not having the whingeing and moaning that happens in the faculty lounge of any university.

Again, it was just a matter of priorities. I found that not having the social contact was great for my productivity, but I’m also resoundingly introverted.

Now, you do have contact with colleagues via email. And depending on your workplace there may be regular skype catch-ups or online discussion forums.

So, if you can’t cope with working in isolation, think twice about working online. I you can put your head down and work independently, this is the gig for you.

8. You need to be (moderately) Techy

I think this is the other reason most of my friends decided not to move online.

Most people I worked with on campus were in their 50s and 60s. They had no interest in the “new world” of online learning. And some of them may have struggled, if I’m honest.

But for me, I do love the opportunity to do some light html coding to make my forums look good, screencast videos and even some graphics on my videos. I love to make a podcast for my students, and I’m a constant infographic creator using Canva.

And I taught myself all of these skills since taking the online job.

So, do I think you need tech skills to get started? No.

Do you need to be willing to teach yourself some light tech skills, fiddle with the learning management system, and constantly seek out ways to make online learning fun?

Absolutely.

9. It’s Harder to make Relationships with Students

This is the one I both embrace and struggle with.

Frankly, I really miss my dissertation students. I miss their inspiration, the coffee chats and being their mentor. I was good at it, and I miss them as people.

I miss it more than I miss my fellow teachers!

I also moderately miss heading into the classroom and teaching lessons. I still remember my on-campus students, their personalities and their learning styles years later.

But my online students? I wouldn’t know Jane from Sally. They’re just names behind a computer screen to me.

I still get satisfaction out of helping students out via email and the long email chains I have with the odd student.

But I don’t know my students, and I don’t get to see their progress year-on-year. And that is something I miss more than I thought I would.

10. It’s Harder to Unionize

I don’t mean like a union in the traditional sense.

I mean, simply, without having close relationships to my other online colleagues, we don’t really have much power or sway over our bosses’ decisions.

I’ve noticed the working conditions slowly start to slide with my current employer. I get an email every now and then telling me there’s a new piece of workload I need to pick up, or my pay structure has changed.

And frankly, if I were closer with my colleagues we’d probably have stormed into our boss’s office and complained loudly about some of the recent changes.

But, being so isolated, I shared an email or two with colleagues and the bosses, but it was difficult to get traction.

And this presents a potential issue: when your boss only sees you as simply a person on the other end of the email and not a colleague who they share the water cooler with, the job does feel a little less secure.

This might or might not be the case with the job you’re considering. But, I bring it up because I think it’s an issue that may be systemic about online work.

Conclusions

Personally, I still love teaching online 5 years after I began. In fact, I count my online job as an absolute life saver for me. It gave me a new lease on my teaching life and I’m not going to let it go any time soon.

But I know many people who wouldn’t dream of teaching online.

The decision is yours – but I’d encourage anyone to give it a go!

Just before you leave, I’d love to hear any more comments or thoughts in the comment box below from anyone who teaches online themselves. What are your pros and cons?

If you want to learn some more about the online learning experience, you can check out my 33 pros and cons of online learning for students here.

Thanks for checking-in!

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Chris Drew, PhD (aka The Helpful Professor)

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