I am always meeting new people and striking up a conversation, and it always comes to “What do you do for a living?” When I answer that I teach online as an adjunct instructor at a couple of different universities, the next question is, “Oh, do you teach at the local university?” “No” I reply, “I teach online classes at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, and Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.” I often get the response of “Oh, I could never do that. I have to be in a classroom.” Or worse, sometimes I get the reaction that silently says, “oh, I thought you said you were a teacher.”

This morning, I met with a group of men from my church for coffee, and I had this conversation with one of the guys. When he learned what I do, he mentioned that he had started taking classes at the local campus, but did not have the time to attend classes anymore.  When I mentioned the online option, he responded that he would rather be in a classroom with people in it.

I used to hear similar reactions from students when I regularly taught in the classroom. A student would tell me that they needed a particular class for their degree, but it was not offered this semester. I would reply with a suggestion that they look at taking the class online. “Oh, I couldn’t do that; I have to be in the classroom with my instructor.” “Well,” I would say, “that is your choice, but you may have to wait awhile for the course to be offered inseat again. Wouldn’t it be better to take it online so you can continue to progress toward the completion of your degree?” Many would go away with something to think about.

There have been a lot of changes in online education over the last ten years. There are real interactions going on in the online discussions. Students get to know each other and in some cases, develop friendships. It is no longer the cold environment of reading and taking quizzes or submitting papers. A good instructor can develop a good sense of presence in an online class, which makes a difference in the student’s experience.

A lot of the communication also occurs through email. Every day, I get email from students with questions about assignments, but I also get email from students who are struggling with other issues in their life and reaching out to me to ask for help or advice. This is a good thing. Not only can I help them with a few extra days for an assignment if needed, but I can also offer my condolences, sympathy, or just a word of encouragement.

Getting back to the conversation I had with my new friend this morning about taking online courses, I told him he should consider it. Taking online classes gives you the flexibility to work it into your schedule. I then added, “A good instructor can make the online learning experience a good one” to which he said he would give that some thought.

So next time someone asks you what you do for a living, don’t feel like you have to justify online education. Be proud of what you do. We teach online and make a difference in the lives of millions of students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to further their education.