Online Schools: 4 Factors to Consider
Online schools are growing at an astonishing rate.
Online education is such a popular option because it allows you to learn at your own pace while balancing work, family, and social commitments. You can even earn your high school diploma online. But with so many institutions now offering online delivery, how do you choose a school and program that fits your goals? And what are the key actions to take if you want to succeed in an online environment?
According to survey data gathered in 2013, the percentage of U.S. higher education students who took at least one online course was at an all-time high—33.5 percent. In fact, that translates to 7.1 million students in 2013, up 6.1 percent from 2012. In addition, 90 percent of academic leaders believe that, within five years, it is likely or very likely that most post-secondary students will be enrolled in at least one online course. *
These numbers mean you will have more schools to choose from and more programs to consider. So, to help you find the distance learning option that best meets your needs, here are four suggestions to keep in mind as you focus your search.
1. Look Into How the Courses Are Structured
Streaming video and virtual classrooms are popular tools. But different online schools may take advantage of different formats. So, when doing your research, look for tutorials or "test drives." Many schools and colleges, through their websites, offer students the chance to preview their online educational experiences.
This might be especially important for particular fields of study. For example, business administration programs may rely heavily on group projects. That means the school should make it easy for students to contact each other via email or live chatting so that they can quickly divide coursework.
Delivery is another important word to remember. Try to find out whether programs are delivered exclusively online or through a combination of mediums like print, video conferencing, or CD-ROM. Ask about the nature of group work, too, since some schools may encourage students to meet in person.
2. Go Over the Technical Requirements
Technology can change quickly, so ensure that you have the hardware and software required for a particular online program. It's also a good idea to make sure that round-the-clock technical support will be just a click or call away.
Compare the specs of your home computer with the technical requirements listed on school websites. That way, you'll know whether you need any upgrades. And remember: many powerful software applications and technologies are free. So a school that uses them will help you stay up-to-date without needing to spend a bundle. OpenOffice for word processing, QuickTime for video, and Adobe Acrobat for document sharing are just a few basic examples.
3. Determine How Accessible the Staff and Resources Are
Find out how easy it is to reach the people who will be evaluating you. Look for instructor email links, toll-free phone numbers, and scheduled office hours. At many schools, professors and instructors answer questions and engage in group discussions or online chat during set hours.
That goes for teaching assistants too. Many professors and instructors enlist assistants to grade assignments and lead discussion groups. You'll want access to those important resources.
And since online schools allow you to study during day or night, it's helpful to be able to take advantage of support resources at times that fit your schedule. You may not be able to speak with an instructor at 3 a.m., but access to online libraries might make completing your assignments easier.
4. Make Sure You Have the Commitment
Sure, you can attend class in your bathrobe from your couch. But are you disciplined enough to thrive? Online schools allow you to learn at your own pace and avoid commutes. But you still have to do your part by ensuring that you have enough time in your week to complete assignments before you enroll.
Also, make sure you can create a good learning environment at home or wherever you'll choose to study. Family and friends need to know that you require alone time with no distractions.
Never Be Afraid to Continue Learning
If you're a self-starter, disciplined, dedicated, and understand the importance of time management, then you'll make a good student. These characteristics are important regardless of whether you pursue an education online or on a campus. So, are you set to begin making your goals come to fruition? Use this moment to search for an online school that offers what you need to move ahead!
Are Online Degrees Worth It? 5 Valued Traits of Online Grads
It's a question still asked by many: "Are online degrees worth it?" Happily, the answer is increasingly, "Yes!"
Of course, like all good things, online education has had its own share of growing pains, which is probably why some people still wonder about it. Plus, the students who benefit most from it are the ones who know what to look for. They understand that not all online schools are created equal, so they seek out the accredited options.
For instance, it's generally a good idea to make sure that the school you choose has accreditation from one or more agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. That way, you'll know that your school has met respected quality standards, which is important for your confidence as well as for the confidence of your potential employers.
Why Online Learning Is Widely Accepted
Aside from accreditation, are online degrees respected for any other reasons? Again, the answer is often, "Yes." In fact, degrees and other credentials from online programs have gained a lot of mainstream acceptance. Why? Consider these facts:
- Online learning is just as effective as traditional face-to-face instruction (according to a meta-analysis of research studies conducted between 1996 and 2008).**
- In 2014, more than 74 percent of American academic leaders rated online learning outcomes as being the same as those from conventional classroom learning, if not better.***
- As of 2014, almost 71 percent of all degree-granting schools that are active and open to the public offer some online or distance-learning programs.***
So online degrees from accredited institutions are widely accepted by many kinds of employers now. You no longer have to ask, "Are online degrees worth anything?" or "Are online degrees taken seriously?" In most cases, they are. After all, this type of convenient and flexible education isn't just a passing trend; it's a major aspect of today's learning and career-training landscape. And it's also proving to have some real advantages for many online graduates.
For example, earning an online degree demonstrates that you might have a lot of positive traits that employers often want. It gives you the opportunity to actively promote marketable traits such as:
1. Excellent Time Management Skills
Being able to complete an online or distance-learning course of study shows that you know how to balance different tasks and priorities. That's especially true if you're like many other people who've chosen this route. A lot of online students have multiple commitments to juggle, such as work and family responsibilities.
Plus, online programs generally have few, if any, regular class meeting times. So attaining success requires the ability to manage your own time productively—on a schedule that you set. That's why it can be a clear indication that you have what it takes to do the same thing on the job, if required.
2. Self-Discipline and Motivation
Many organizations love to hire self-starters, the kind of people who don't need to be micro-managed or told what to do all the time. They want dedicated employees who have the willpower to get their jobs done on their own as well as the ability to persist through challenges when necessary.
It's why online grads are often seen as appealing job candidates. Since they've frequently had busy lives and other commitments outside of school, they've needed plenty of self-motivation to achieve their educational goals. In fact, in 2014, over 68 percent of America's academic leaders agreed that succeeding in online courses requires more discipline than succeeding in classroom-based courses.*** That's a point you can sell to potential employers.
3. Good Online Collaboration Skills
Just like the Internet enables you to learn online, it also enables professionals in different locations to work with each other. As a result, a lot of companies and institutions are major users of online communications tools. Many of them have employees who work remotely or whole teams that are scattered across multiple regions. In short, much of today's work world has gone virtual, and it's a trend that's likely to keep gaining momentum well into the future.
But not everyone has experience using Web-based collaboration tools at that level. So people who've gone to school online often have an edge since they've had the chance to practice that type of communication using apps and platforms designed for successful collaboration.
4. Up-to-Date Computer Literacy
As amazing as it may seem, many career seekers simply don't have basic computer skills. And even those who do are sometimes a little behind the times. But for a huge percentage of job opportunities, a working familiarity with current computer technology is a requirement. After all, employers don't typically want to spend time teaching their new hires something that basic. So being a graduate of an online program provides some proof that you already know how to use a computer and can learn tech-related skills that might be new to you.
5. The Ability to Learn Independently
People who are resourceful and able to teach themselves new concepts and skills tend to achieve more success. That's why this trait is so highly valued in the professional world. Organizations can be more nimble and respond to changes more quickly if they have employees who can learn new things without a lot of extra guidance.
Learning online gives students more space and independence to develop that kind of resourcefulness. Plus, it gives them more opportunities to pause and reflect on what they're studying, which naturally builds their capacity for independent learning. As a result, many smart employers consider the inclusion of online degrees on resumes to be evidence of this beneficial trait.
Get Your Online Education Underway
Web-based learning clearly has advantages—maybe even some you've never thought about. So, are online degrees worth it? That depends on you. Why not explore several online schools that offer respected programs? Or search for the options that can provide you with a convenient education where you live by entering your zip code right now!
* Babson Survey Research Group, Pearson, and the Sloan Consortium, Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States, website accessed June 3, 2015.
** U.S. Department of Education, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, website last visited on July 6, 2015.
*** Babson Survey Research Group, Online Learning Consortium, Pearson, and Tyton Partners,Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States, website last visited on July 6, 2015.