Distance Learning Overview
Distance learning or “online learning” may be an attractive option for those returning to education. Online courses consist of an Internet-based learning environment where students sign in regularly to retrieve assignment directions and interact with other students and their instructor. The professor posts lecture notes online and holds “office hours” online so that they can be reached easily. According to the Distance Education and Training Council, an estimated eight million Americans are currently enrolled in distance learning programs. Distance learning offers a flexible study schedule and students can accelerate through classes quickly or move at a slower pace. Distance learning allows students to maintain career and family responsibilities while taking classes. It is a popular method for earning certificates or degrees for career advancement without leaving your current job. Since online courses rely heavily upon motivation and self-discipline, often this type of learning can work well for mature students.
Ask yourself these questions to determine if distance learning is right for you:
- Are you an effective time manager?
- Do you tend to procrastinate?
- Are you anxious about using the Internet for your classes?
- Could you benefit from the social interaction of the classroom?
- Would you benefit from other student support services/activities available through a bricks-and-mortar campus environment?
- Do you have updated virus/spyware software on your computer?
How do I find the right program?
Distance learning institutions offer a variety of options including high school diploma programs and college degree programs from an associate’s to a doctoral degree. Some institutions offer hybrid courses which are a mix of both online and face-to-face meetings. If you have determined that you have the self-motivation, basic computer savvy and independence to study online, it is important to look for schools that are accredited by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education. Accreditation is simply a validation process by which institutions of higher education are evaluated against established standards to ensure a high level of educational quality. Knowing something about a school's accreditation can tell you a lot about the value of the degree or course for which you are paying. If you obtain a degree or take a course from a non-accredited institution you may find that the degree is not recognized by some employers or that the course credits may not transfer to other institutions. Avoid scams or getting your degree from a “degree mill” by making sure the program is accredited by a nationally-recognized accrediting association. There is a billion dollar industry of online schools whose only requirements for a degree is payment. A good program will have a strong organizational structure, adequate financing to offer quality programs, appropriate curricula, competent faculty and strong student supports. Ultimately, though, the institution must evaluate the quality of its program based on student achievement. To check any U.S. institution’s accreditation status, log onto www.chea.org.
FAQs about Distance Learning
Do employers recognize online degrees? As long as a degree has been awarded by an accredited institution, it is like any other degree in the eyes of potential employers. Taking online classes may even be more impressive to potential employers because the courses require independent study, computer skills, networking, and the ability to balance work and school. The skills garnered from online classes are transferrable to the workplace where the use of e-mail communication and various software applications are routine. Some businesses even provide financial incentives to employees who enroll in online programs.
Can I transfer my online credits? Most distance learning institutions are accredited by the same agencies as traditional colleges and universities so most credits will be transferable to traditional institutions. Some online learning institutions have articulation agreements with colleges and universities regarding online credit transfer. Be sure to research your online school and the school you wish to transfer credits to for policies on the number of credits you can transfer from an online program.
Do I need advanced computer skills? No! If you can use the Internet, you can take a course online. Most courses require students to use e-mail, download or upload assignments and use chat rooms to facilitate discussions and relationships with peers.