Distance Education: Ready & Waiting For You
Distance education is the fastest-growing method of delivering educational content worldwide. Especially with the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, technology has laced the distance learning experience with a richness, diversity, and speed of delivery unanticipated only a few years ago.
As technology has raced forward in its ability to deliver high-quality images, sound, and other content, it has expanded the reach of both the education consumer and universities, which now can serve up high-quality programs to learners virtually anywhere in the world, any time of the day or night.
What constitutes "distance education"? Simply defined, it is any program that allows students to learn away from a traditional campus-based classroom environment.
Students today can study at home, in a library, in a bookstore or coffee shop, on a plane, train or boat, in a hotel room, at work, or just about anywhere else. Distance education generally enables students to schedule their time around work, family and other responsibilities, rather then around a professor's classroom hours or commutes to a campus.
Depending on the offering institution, new technologies can be integrated into courses that enable real-time interaction with faculty and other classmates in ways that equal or even exceed what would be experienced in traditional classrooms. Satellite downloads, compressed video, chatrooms, and live audio options enable dozens of students to participate in discussions via virtual clusters (cohorts) or members of an online class. These technologies are enabling even those in rural and less-developed nations to gain the advanced college-level work they need to be able to compete in the global setting.
Along with the increase in demand for distance learning has come a need for faculty to learn new ways of teaching their content; teaching online or via site-based weekend meetings is not the same as teaching in traditional settings. Many develop these skills by taking programs that teach the teachers how to best create and implement instructional technology for distance education.
Quality of learning
One of the most often asked questions is whether the quality of distance learning is as good as that of traditional methods. The resounding answer, based on numerous studies as well as testimonials from students, is "yes" -- if the student understands that taking coursework via distance education is not "just like going to class" in a traditional classroom. The student must create for him/herself the discipline to learn that, in traditional settings, is imposed by the setting itself -- going to class, paying attention, turning in assignments on time, and so on.
There are several key elements of a distance learning program to research and evaluate. These include:
Does the offering institution hold accreditation by an appropriately recognized and respected organization? Most U.S. colleges and universities, for example, hold accreditation issued by one of five regional accrediting agencies; distance learning programs offered by such institutions must meet that agency's standards just as live classroom programs would.
Mode of instruction
Various formats of distance learning exist, many of which carry specific equipment, communication network and/or skill requirements for successful completion. Be sure to understand these requirements beforehand.
Self-study vs. Directed-study
Self-study programs are usually pre-packaged courses or series that the individual completes at his/her own pace; these are usually associated with professional development programs but not with degree-based ones. College-credit programs almost always involve continuous interaction with one or more faculty members, and in many cases with others in a class or cohort.
One of the best ways to evaluate a program is through the experiences of others who have already been through it. Ask the offering university for referrals to current students or program graduates. While confidentiality issues prevent universities from wantonly offering such information, many will have names of alumni who have already volunteered to share with others.
This column is offered as a helpful guide by distance education experts at Nova Southeastern University, one of the world's leading providers of distance learning for those in education and general leadership roles.
More Information: Contact NSU at , http://www.fischlerschool.nova.edu, or (U.S.) 954-262-8500.
With thanks to: Brian Croswhite, Nova Southeastern university
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