Author "terryrussell" Page

Screen Name: terryrussell

Author Articles List:

Sort by:

Choosing An Online Program

Online learning has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years. According to an annual report published by the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), nearly 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course in 2006. They also reported that one in five higher education students were taking an online course in the fall of 2006. The growth rate reported for online learning was nearly 10%.
To meet the demand, as of 2000 over half of the degree granting institutions in the U.S. offered some type of distance education. By 2002 the number was expected to rise to 84% .
Access is the reason most often cited for the increase in both interest and the number of online offerings. Online course offerings and programs provide greater access to education for potential students. This is especially true for working adults who are looking for ways to further or change careers. Access is also the number 1 reason cited by educational institutions for the increase in their online offerings, followed by attracting students from beyond their traditional service area, and growing continuing or professional education .
There are also studies by groups such as the Distance Learning and Education Council and Eduventures that indicate growing acceptance of online education programs. An Eduventures study indicated that more than 60% of managers or human resource professionals view online degrees favorably. Studies including Sloan-C’s indicate increasing levels of acceptance of online learning among professional educators as well.
Popular Online Universities
Here’s are a few of the larger universities that have a focus on online programs (see a longer list in the left column):
AIU Online provides degree and non-degree programs in business, education and other career-centric areas
Capella University is an entirely online university that maintains a focus on graduate programs
University of Phoenix Online is a very large and established online educator with a strong breadth of programs and degrees.
There are, however, still prejudices against online programs and degrees within both the academic community and the hiring community. A study conducted by Jonathan Adams (Director of Interactive and New Communication Technologies at Florida State University) and Margaret H. DeFleur (Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at Louisiana State University), indicates a much lower degree of acceptance of online education and degrees on the part of hiring managers and educational institutions .
Given the increasing popularity and proliferation of online learning and courses, as well as varying degrees of acceptance, it is important for individuals to have a framework with which to evaluate online learning offerings. Prospective students need to evaluate programs to maximize their potential for getting a good, sound, education that will be looked upon favorably by the academic and hiring communities. This paper will highlight the top factors that individuals should take into consideration when evaluating online learning.
Sloan-C defines an online course as one in which at least 80% of course content is delivered online. Courses with less online content are considered to by blended or hybrid (30-79% online content) or “web facilitated” (< 30% online content).
Top Considerations When Evaluation Online Learning
Is On-line Training Right for You?
Probably the best place to start is with a little introspection and self examination. Questions that you should ask yourself include:
Why do you want to take an online course versus a more traditional instructor delivered course?
Is online learning compatible with your needs and the way that you learn?
How comfortable are you with a computer and technology?
Many people look into online learning because they think it will be faster or easier. Both are common misconceptions. A quality online course or program should be every bit as demanding as its classroom counterpart. Also, because many online courses are self-paced, they may actually take longer for a student to complete, especially for working adults who are juggling other life commitments.
Online learning is a fairly solitary and self-directed undertaking. This is especially true of online courses that progress at a student's own pace as opposed to those on a schedule with specific deadlines. Online learning also requires some facility with a computer. If you are an individual who needs structure or direction, or who thinks that the social aspects of an education (live interaction with other students and faculty, campus events, etc.) are appealing or important, than online learning may not be the right vehicle for you.
Expectation issues may be the reason that so many students (15% at post secondary and degree granting post secondary institutions) actually never start their distance education course (2007 Distance Education Survey, DETC). Once over the initial hurdles, however, course completion rates (75% or better) and graduation (65% or better) are fairly high for distance education (2007 Distance Education Survey, DETC).
What is the quality of the institution offering the online course/program?
One of the main indicators of the quality of an educational institution is accreditation. Accreditation is a process of peer-review of educational institutions and programs against established quality criteria by an independent, non-governmental, private educational association known as an accrediting agency. At a minimum, a prospective student should consider programs that are nationally accredited by an agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Even better is to consider the programs of an institution that is accredited by one of the 6 regional accrediting agencies, and their 8 commissions. The regional accrediting agencies are generally believed to be the highest form of accreditation in the United States. For more on accreditation see: Understanding Accreditation of Online Education Programs.