Among other benefits, the Internet has made education available to people who cannot or don’t wish to, attend regular college classes. So many colleges, universities and trade schools offer courses that researching and choosing among them may mean weeks or even months of work.
You can earn a certificate, an Associate’s degree, Bachelor’s, Master’s, even a Ph.D (doctorate). Lists of higher education institutions abound; just type “online degrees” into your favorite search engine and stand back. There you can find plenty of information about the college, its requirements, admission policies, the degrees or certificates it offers, and more. The certificate and degree programs themselves are somewhat limited; most are offered in the fields of education, business, and, criminal justice. Other degrees are offered in psychology, law, medicine, real estate, art, computer science, home inspector, interior design and even fire science! These programs are not offered at every college, so careful research is required. Financial aid can be used to finance some programs but not others. Online learning is, overall, somewhat less expensive than on- campus study; plenty of public (all or partially subsidized by the state) colleges and universities offer courses, and there are many for-profit organizations also.
When it comes to deciding whether this type of learning will work for you, however, information is a little less forthcoming. Distance learning is not like attending college on campus – it has its own limitations, rules and results. Those who are contemplating signing up for an online degree should first ask themselves:
1. Can I manage my time effectively?
Taking an online course means a major expenditure of time. The classes are often accelerated, finishing faster than regular college courses. If you teach school full time and play bridge three nights a week, you may have difficulty with the program. The curriculum may include writing essays or articles, memorizing long lists of words and participating in chat sessions. You will have questions, and if the instructor doesn’t have adequate help it may be days or even weeks before your questions are answered. Time-lines will be set and you will be expected to adhere to these.
2. Can I work independently?
This means self-discipline. Attending regular college classes means you leave your home and show up at the designated place at the designated time. After that, you’re a captive audience: you sit there and learn or you get up and walk out (and perhaps forfeit your tuition). Home learners must show up at the designated time they have set for themselves, sit down and apply themselves – for themselves – without aid. Are you confident you will be able to do this on a sustained basis?
3. Am Ian organized person?
Are you a neatnik who always knows where her car keys are, or do you have to scrabble through a pile of papers, books, odd paper clips and flea spray to find them? A certain amount of organization is required for distance learning. You may be responsible for books, equipment, perhaps tapes and tape recorders furnished by the college – to misplace or record over any of it can result in disaster. You will need to choose your own work hours, keep track of your progress, and turn in assignments on time.
4. Can I motivate myself?
The prime threat to successful distance learning is motivation, or lack of it. It is up to you to set your work hours and adhere to them, whether you feel like doing it or not. The time given you to complete assignments is short, and firm, and if you fall behind, it may prove impossible to catch up.
5. Am I computer literate?
If you don’t own a computer and have no idea how to work one, better to put off distance learning until you can answer this question, “Yes.” You need to know how to email, transfer documents, participate in chat rooms, do research and more. Perhaps you can sign up for an introductory computer class at a nearby college or hire someone to teach you.
6. Can I commit?
Because online courses are accelerated, they require more in-depth study, a strong ability to track down answers on your own, and although it may be difficult or even impossible, more contact with other students and faculty. You can expect to spend 10-20 hours per class, per week, studying and completing assignments.
If you answered all these questions with “Yes!” you are now ready to research the vendors.Â
What to watch for?
According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, a “diploma mill” is “An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards, worthless.”
A diploma mill will sell you a degree with few or no courses taken – you pay the fee and within days your “degree” arrives in your mailbox. Of course, these pieces of paper are not worth anything – you have been defrauded. Diploma mills cast dark shadows on the whole concept of distance learning, and indirectly, dumb down the entire population.
Accreditation is “a set of educational standards based on quality of facilities, resources, faculty and curriculum.” A college or university wishing to be accredited must meet the standards of the accrediting agency – in America these agencies are made up of representatives of other accredited colleges and universities. No doubt all the “educational institutions” you turn up in your research will claim some kind of accreditation, but many of these are made up on the spot and carry no authority. Before you sign up, check them out at the Council of Higher Education Accreditation at http://www.chea.org/.
Also watch out for sites that offer you a degree “based on life experience.” One such site brags that their degrees are “accepted worldwide by an Authorized recognized major United States University. Professional, affordable, fast and confidential.” What does that mean, you might well wonder. If it’s a legitimate degree why would you want it kept confidential? “We represents Universities that will grant degrees based on life experience, work history, military experience and/or previous college credits, courses or a combination thereof,” the site boasts. Some very legitimate institutions of higher learning may offer you credits for writing the story of your life, but no legitimate college will give you a degree based on your life experience. I can’t believe this ad is directed to citizens of the United States.
If you will be in need of financial aid, check your colleges out carefully; certificates in particular may not be available through financial aid. Check scholarships carefully also, as the criteria for winning money for school may astonish you. Any number of online sites will help you research for a scholarship; just type “scholarships” into your favorite search engine.
Distance learning is the coming thing. If it is right for you, go for it!