Choosing a Distance Learning Program

Distance learning is becoming one of the most popular ways to complete college, with enrollments rising rapidly each year. This is partly because more working professionals and non-traditional students with numerous family responsibilities are returning to school.

Since more students are enrolling in distance learning programs, those considering enrolling in one should be cautious when selecting a program. Not all programs offer high quality education. Many institutions are cashing in on this demand for distance learning by offering programs that are sub-par or non-accredited. Therefore, those looking for a distance learning program should conduct thorough research before selecting one. When selecting a program, take into account the following factors:

  • Accreditation. Accredited schools adhere to high education standards. Accreditations are administered by agencies responsible for reviewing and determining whether schools meet the necessary standards. The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is one such accreditation agency responsible for reviewing distance learning programs.

    One way to determine whether a distance learning program is accredited is by checking to see whether professional organizations associated with the field where most students find jobs after graduation recognize it as accredited. For example, students enrolling in legal secretary programs should check to see which ones are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Graduates of ABA accredited programs would be at advantage when looking for jobs after graduation.

  • Reputation. Graduates of distance learning programs with poor reputations can be at a disadvantage when seeking jobs following graduation. Do not rely entirely on a program's website or brochures when determining whether it's reputable. Consider the following ideas when determining whether a program has a good reputation:

    • Tour the campus of the college offering the program
    • Arrange to meet with program alumni to inquire about the program you're considering
    • Contact the Better Business Bureau and inquire about any complaints filed against the school
    • Communicate with professionals in the field you're interested in working in to inquire about reputable programs
    • Conduct Internet research and review books and magazines with information about specific programs

  • Academic Offerings. One of the main factors that must be considered when selecting a distance learning program is the quality of the instruction you'll receive. Good programs contain many rigorous courses which provide students with a well-rounded education. To learn more about specific classes, speak with instructors, academic counselors, and department chairs. Be prepared with specific questions about course quality when communicating with faculty members. Likewise, ensure programs you're considering offer a variety of courses related to the career field you plan to pursue. Employers usually seek employees with well-rounded educations. Students should also make sure programs offer courses which will improve writing, analytical, and organizational skills since job seekers with these skills are highly sought after in the workforce.

    It's also advisable to inquire about whether specific schools have good internship placement programs. Experience gained during an internship can be very beneficial when seeking a job after graduation.

  • Instructional Technologies. Distance learning education is provided through numerous means. Students can watch recorded lectures on DVD's, participate in teleconferencing, and watch instruction via the Internet. Before selecting a program, students should also inquire about available student support programs and hands-on instruction. It's also recommended to test teaching technology prior to selecting a program to see if it's compatible with individual learning preferences.

  • Teaching Staff. Good instructors serve as the cornerstone of any quality educational program. Students should know whether classes are taught live or pre-recorded prior to selecting a distance learning program. It's also recommended to learn about individual teacher experience and qualifications prior to enrollment.

  • Career Services. An often overlooked, but very important component of any school is the existence of an effective career services program. This service plays an important role in placing students with employers following graduation. One statistic all students should ask about prior to enrolling at a particular school is the graduate employment rate. Also, students should inquire about available services, such as career counseling, resume preparation, etc.
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