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Distance Learning, Online Education, Electronic Education, Electronic Learning…Call It What You Want.

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Whatever you want to label "learning at home" and however you want to define the latest buzz words for non-traditional education, you can find a program and method that suits your needs. Right now over 1.2 million people in the U.S. participate in some form of distance learning, with a projected expansion to 2.3 million in just a few years.

In looking at this rapidly expanding and viable form of education and training, there are a few basic things you need to consider and some decisions you need to make in order to create the environment that will best suit your needs. You need to know the what, the why, the benefits and the how of the various forms of distance learning.

Distance learning (correspondence courses) started in Europe in the 1800’s and has evolved into a multifaceted term that serves many purposes. Some of the forms of distance learning are: correspondence courses, online education, internet based education, electronic education, e-education, electronic learning, and e-learning. How these terms differ will depend upon how the institution defines and labels the programs which they offer. To simplify the whole concept, let’s say that these terms represent ways of learning away from a "brick and mortar" facility. Some distance learning and/or online programs may or may not be connected to a university or college. There are many programs that are independent and are not affiliated with any institution.

Distance learning offers a variety of paths to personal goals which include: GED, associate degrees, bachelor degrees, graduate certificates, master degrees, doctoral degrees, non-credit training courses, and others. Whether a person is seeking a degree, keeping professional skills updated, or pursuing skills for an interest area or hobby, there is a program or offering that should work.

Why are so many people turning to distance learning? What are its advantages? On a personal level look at such pros as: maintaining privacy; provides convenience; enables a flexible schedule; allows for balancing job and family obligations; working at own pace, going slowly or accelerating learning; can be less expensive; great for homebound individuals; no unnecessary travel; no formal class attendance; and can "learn while you earn." These are a few of the many things that are causing quite a number of people to take an entirely different approach to attaining knowledge/skills and/or earning a degree.

Those who advocate against an alternative of distance learning, often site the lack of socialization which is a part of a traditional type of education. However, not everyone is looking for the classroom activities, college events/parties, and the interactions that are a part of a school campus. Many of the classroom activities such as discussion and support can be achieved online. The other things that an online education will reinforce are: reading - ebooks, up to date
references, current research; listening - through audio lectures or clips; seeing- through graphic illustrations and demonstrations; doing - assignments, quizzes, exams, research papers; and speaking/communication - through email, chats, and electronic discussions. A distance learning program can be far more than just reading and writing.

What are the requirements for becoming a part of a distance learning program? Many programs require a minimum of a GED or taking an admissions test. Usually, the process for applying will include: an application; transcripts; test scores; an essay; and letters of recommendation. The less formal the program, the less formal the requirements. There is a wide range in answering this questions. However, what is necessary for an online program is the right computer equipment with the internet connection (high speed), word processing capability; email; and multimedia player. The program you choose will provide more specific details for recommendation about equipment and software.

In choosing a program there some questions to ask as you do your research and make your selection. Ask about the following: help/support is offered; qualifications of the instructors; number of years the institution has provided services; is it an accredited program; details about the curriculum; and multimedia elements of the program. By the way, accreditation is voluntary since there is no officially sanctioned entity in existence. However, most schools considered the six regional accrediting agencies listings to be legitimate agencies. Ask if it is regionally accredited.

The last thing you need to think about is your motivation and work ethic. If you are a good reader (good reading comprehension skills) who doesn’t procrastinate and can avoid distractions, you will be a good candidate for an alternative approach to education. In this age of global education and the need for current knowledge and skills, this is a fast delivery system that will bring all the technological advancement right into your living room instantaneously. It works for more than a million people, and it can work for you.

Visit our Resource Center on Distance Learning at: http://sbmag.org/distancelearning.html

Copyright usage: No permission is needed to reproduce this story. The About the Author statement must remain in tact. We also request notification of where the article is being used so reciprocal links can be considered. mailto:barb@sbmag.org

About the Author

Barbara Snyder is a retired California Distinguished School Principal and Coordinator For Human Resources. She has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She holds elementary education, secondary, community college, and administrative credentials. She is currently the publisher of http://EducationResourcesNetwork.com, co-publisher of Strictly Business Magazine, http://www.sbmag.org.

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