Are you interested in a course offered across the country? Before
you consider moving, find out if the course is available online. Students
today have great opportunities for online education.
"Students not only want online courses, they expect them!" says Dr. Frits
Pannekoek. Pannekoek is president of a university that offers online courses.
He is also a board member of a virtual university organization.
When we talk about online education, it is important to understand certain
Different Types of Education
According to Pannekoek, online education, or e-learning, refers to taking
courses and classes over the Internet. Participants communicate through e-mail,
chatrooms and online bulletin boards.
Distance education refers to correspondence courses. Material arrives by
mail. You mail completed assignments back and receive a mark.
Hybrid or blended courses combine classroom instruction with online learning.
In open learning, students can enroll in courses that they want without
enrolling in a complete program. In some situations, they might be able to
transfer course credits from an online course to the university or college
that they are attending full time.
Pannekoek says that many people learn online better than they do in a classroom.
"Students retain more and go through complex subjects more thoroughly,"
Often students are surprised to discover that online learning provides
more interaction with other students than they have in a classroom.
Vicky Phillips is the founder of GetEducated.com, an online clearing house.
According to Phillips, well-designed online courses encourage interaction
through group projects. "Groups of people are assigned to work in teams,"
Phillips says. "They talk a lot and teach one another."
Although you can learn many subjects online, some materials require a hybrid
approach, says Dr. John Cassidy. Cassidy is manager of distance education
and distance education learning technologies at a university.
Suppose you want to learn to dissect a frog, for example. You can learn
the frog's inner workings though Internet animations and videos in a "virtual
lab." However, using the scalpel requires real-life practice.
Courses like nursing and animal technology require hands-on practice. In
these situations, the student might do the hands-on work in a hospital or
other workplace, supervised by an appropriate professional.
Advantages of Online Education
There are many advantages to online education. "The biggest pro is that
it makes education more accessible," says Phillips. People in rural areas
can take courses without moving to the city. People can do their coursework
at any time of the day or night. Students with a job can fit coursework around
Sally Welch is the assistant director of the Distance Education and Training
Council, based in Washington. She adds that students can study at their own
pace. Slow learners benefit. They receive personal attention from instructors
through chatlines, bulletin boards or e-mail. At the same time, faster learners
proceed at their own speed.
"Often you can get more specialized attention than in a regular school,"
Also, some students are shy about speaking up in classrooms. Some are afraid
to ask questions in case they look "stupid." With online learning, you can
ask questions privately and "speak up" by e-mail.
There is another advantage. Your fellow students are likely to live in
other locations, or even in other countries. They have different cultures
and different ideas. "You can have a truly international learning experience,"
The richness of the learning material is yet another advantage. The instructor
can introduce links to other websites, video clips, pictures, Flash animations
or any number of items that make the course more interesting.
There are some disadvantages to online education. First you need good reading
and writing skills, according to Phillips, because online education tends
to be a reading and writing medium.
Secondly, you need an Internet-enabled computer and must be willing to
learn to use it. Slow Internet connections can pose problems for some people.
Some students access the Net with a dial-up connection or through satellite.
But the greatest con is that online education can be isolating. If you
do not like to communicate with words or symbols, or if you like to see your
classmates and instructors and hear their voices, then you might find online
education boring. You cannot hang out with your classmates or go out for pizza
with them. "Therefore, it can be more difficult to motivate yourself," Phillips
Scams and Fake Online Colleges
Students considering online education are smart to do some research before
enrolling. There are many scams and bogus "universities" online. Some of them
have excellent websites and they look legitimate.
Phillips' company tracks over 200 fake online colleges in the U.S. alone.
"Online education is one of the largest scams on the Internet," Phillips warns.
"It's so easy to do and stay within the law."
Phillips adds that some of these fake colleges have created their own accreditation
agencies. They tell you truthfully that this agency has accredited their school.
They don't tell you that the accreditation means nothing because the U.S.
government doesn't recognize their agency.
If a U.S. college grants a degree, and it if claims to be accredited, Phillips
advises checking with the U.S. Department of Education or the Council of Higher
Education Accreditation. Find out if these bodies recognize the accrediting
Both of these organizations have online searchable databases. "If the accreditation
agency is not listed, run in the other direction," says Phillips.
Welch offers some other "red flags" that might indicate a bogus college.
Check with better business bureaus or consumer agencies. Complaints about
the school are red flags. If a school accepts life experience for credit,
that is another red flag.
If the school wants money for doing nothing, that is a very big red flag.
For example, some bogus colleges offer diplomas but don't require you to take
very many courses.
Also, ask about a school's refund policy. Read the contract carefully to
see what is included and what is not. Be sure to ask about library policies
before signing a contract.
And, Welch adds, be on the lookout for online schools with names that are
very similar to resident colleges. Scammers often give their school a name
similar to a legitimate school, hoping to confuse people. The same thing applies
to accrediting agencies. "It is amazing what people do," Welch remarks.
Questions to Ask
If you plan on transferring your credits to another school, ask for a list
of schools that accept this school's credits. Or if you are getting a high
school diploma, check with your college ahead of time and ask if they will
accept your diploma. "Do that BEFORE you enroll, not after," Welch advises.
Another problem arises in the U.S. because no federal law requires a college
to be accredited. They leave it up to each state. Problems can happen when
employers in one state do not recognize a degree granted in another state.
Always ask which other states recognize the degree before you enroll in a
If you encounter a program that interests you, decide where you would like
to work after you graduate. Then approach those employers and ask if they
hire graduates of that school. "If employers don't see this organization
as something you could put faith in, I would stay away from it!" says Cassidy.
Cassidy also suggests contacting the school and asking some questions.
Ask them whether the course is the old style of distance education, or whether
it is the new "learner-centered" style. "Learner-centered style" is the answer
you are looking for.
Another question to ask is, "What's the work load like?" Be cautious if
it seems too light. You will not learn all you need to learn. Be even more
cautious if the load seems too heavy to cover in a year.
"It is better to pass in three years than fail in one," concludes Cassidy.
So is online education for you? Self-motivated people who are willing to
learn computer skills will do well in an online course. The experts agree
that the skills you develop in online learning will help you for the rest
of your life.