Categorized | Education

E-Learning Boosts Your Bottom Line

Posted on 28 February 2009

Colleges and universities have long offered classes at night, on the weekends, and off campus to accommodate hectic schedules and make college education more attainable. But now you can earn specialized certificates and degrees without ever setting foot inside a classroom.

Between 75 and 80 percent of all colleges and universities across the U.S. have established some form of online curriculum. Industry watcher Russell Poulin, associate director of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications in Colorado, says the “interactive, anytime nature” of the Internet was the earliest driver in online education.

The need to compete for students has driven many colleges to the Net. Studies predict that 2.2 million people will enroll in distance learning by 2009, up from just 700,000 in 1998. Serious players like the University of Phoenix Online are feeling the enrollment boom. The online-only college has more than 18,000 students registered today, up from 4,700 in 1997.

Continuing education has become a fundamental part of higher learning.

The E-Learning Alternative
Poulin said schools typically begin by putting a few courses up on the Internet. Students can then combine the online courses with traditional in-person classes to earn a degree.

“Students like the choice of going to a given class on-site or online,” he said. “What draws people in and leads to a successful online presence, however, are certificates or degree programs in which individuals can do the entire program online.” The most prevalent online programs are associate degrees, which represent the basic first two years of college, and master’s degrees.

More and more people are also opting for online education as a way to complete a bachelor’s degree after attending a two-year community. With many of us pursuing four or five careers during our working lives, continuing education has become a fundamental part of higher learning. The online environment will certainly play a big role in its delivery.

Pros and Cons
The idea of learning from the comfort of your own home sounds appealing, but there are a few things to consider before logging on:

  1. Think about your learning style. Take the time to consider how you learn best, Poulin says. If you thrive on face-to-face interaction with instructors, or participation with other students in team projects has helped you master subjects in the past, e-learning is most likely not for you.
  2. Don’t assume it is easier. It is a common mistake to think so, because you are not physically in a classroom. But it can actually be harder, Poulin explains, because you will have to acquire new skills in learning and interaction with others than those used on-site. Instructors have to cover the same type and amount of material, regardless of whether they are teaching in-person or online. You will still be required to put in the same amount of time to do the learning.
  3. Give it a trial run. Those interested in taking the online challenge will benefit greatly by starting small–one introductory class, perhaps in history or literature. You can even give e-learning a try on the cheap by taking a course from commercial sites like Zdnet, which offers online classes for free or for a small administrative fee.
  4. Check out the local college. Call the learning institution or institutions nearest you to find out what kind of online offerings they have put in place. Having the option of face-to-face interaction with teachers or fellow students is a bonus.
  5. Think about your ultimate goal. Online classes may solve some issues with time and distance, but students still need to be clear about their educational goals. For instance, if you want to use online courses to pick up some credits that later can be transferred to an on-site college or university, make sure the school you are planning to attend will accept the transfer.
  6. Don’t get taken for a ride. Although Poulin declined to name names, there are a few fly-by-night e-learning concerns on the Net. Be wary of sites that announce their accreditation on the front page, he says. It may sound good, but questionable accreditation agencies also exist. Meanwhile, established educators like the University of Wisconsin or Penn State University–both of which offer online curriculums–may not actually post accreditation information anywhere on their sites.

Just the Facts
If you are skeptical, the Department of Education has a list of recognized accrediting agencies at its Web site. Or, go to your local library and look for the school by name in the Higher Education Directory. If you want more information on e-learning and distance education, fetch The Distance Leaning Guide, a publication put together by Poulin and his associates. Online classes can be a cool and convenient way to acquire extra credits or even earn a degree, even though you still have to do your homework.

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