Choosing the Right Online Education Program

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My main motivations for wanting an advanced degree were to teach and to earn extra money doing it. As I've discovered from my years as an online instructor, many people enroll in school for many reasons. I've found that the overall main reason is self-improvement. More and more people are discovering that their chances for advancing at work will only improve if they have a college degree, whether it's a two-year, four-year or post-graduate degree.

The reasons people decide to return to school vary. Here are some comments from some of my past students on why they went back to school (the names have been changed to protect the innocent):

"I am 50, married for 33 years have 6 children … I decided to go back to school because my husband started his business about 6 years ago I started doing the books and found out that I need some help … I made up mind I can do anything. "
-Eleanor C.

"I quit school in the 11th grade then ever got my GED. My current major is business.
-Melissa A.

"After 27 years, the toll construction puts on your body, prompted me to do as I'm doing now. My degree will allow me to either take on a very good office job or do smaller businesses on my own."
-Dale R.

As you may have noticed, the comments appear to be older adults and they all deal with self-improvement. I've found the majority of my students are older adults, with jobs, and families. (Is that where you are in life right now?) They want to advance at work or they want to find a better job that requires some kind of degree. Some students are youngger people who started working right out of high school, might have a few community college courses under their belts, and want to continue their educations while they keep working.

So, why do most of these folks say they want to take classes? For the very same reasons: they are older adults, with jobs and families. They can not take or make the time to sit in a college classroom for several nights a week to earn a college degree. You are probably in the very same situation. I know that I was.

If you are diving into distance learning, you are part of a growing group. Research shows that the number of post-secondary students taking at least one online class is growing at a faster rate faster than the increase of overall higher education enrollments.

The main reason many students say they enroll in online education programs is convenience, as well as the schedule flexibility. Is that one of your main reasons? While there are assignment deadlines for discussions, tests and papers, students can work at their own pace to some degree. You will still have deadlines to meet but you can juggle your personal time to get it all done.

Online learning is becoming right for more people. I am sure you've noticed that many of the major Ivy League level schools are offering free (usually non-credit) courses called MOOCs. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses. They can and do serve hundreds of thousands of students. But while MOOCs seem fascinating, and the thought of enrolling in a course where some of our country's greatest minds have attended seem intriguing, are they really the best environment for the new online learner. I think the short answer is "no." MOOCs are too much of a one-size-fits-all environment and do not work for everyone.

David Youngberg is an assistant professor of economics at Bethany College. In August of 2012, he wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he recounted his experiences in a MOOC he took through Stanford. He did not seem all that impressed with the massive teaching program. In his commentary, he pointed out what he saw as some of the major flaws with MOOCs: It's too easy to cheat, star students do not stand out, computers can not grade everything, and money can substitute for ability.

While I do think that an employer will be more impressed with a resume from someone who earned a college degree from a conventional school compared to a distance learning school, I also would like to give that employer some credit in evaluating the applicable. If the applicant earned his or her degree online while working full-time and raising a family, I think that's all worthy of consideration. So, do not shy away from online learning – and maybe even MOOCs just because they do not have the same punch as an Ivy League school.

It is vitally important that you really do your homework before making a commitment to an online program. There are a lot of questions you have to ask, of yourself and the schools you are considering. Not asking the schools a lot of questions is a big mistake. You need to know what you are buying into here.

It is really important that you do not make a quick decision when choosing your online program. Do not fall victim to the hard sell. The TV commercial or the pop-up ad might catch your eye, but spend time investigating and determining what might be the best choice for you.

Not only ask yourself if you want to learn online but also ask if you think you can learn online. That's a big question. Spend a lot of time answering it before making your decision.

If you plan on being an online learned be a dedicated and prepared one.