Online Education – Do You Want To Return To School?

In our rapidly changing global world, millions of students are currently taking college-level online (distance education) classes. Private and public universities in the United States and abroad are offering Certificate, Baccalaureate, Masters and Doctoral degree programs over the Internet to adult learners. From Ivy League to Community Colleges, an increasing number of students can log on to their classes from home, work or while commuting by bus and train. Adult learners frequently juggle a myriad of responsibilities including raising children, career, and care giving for senior parents. Formerly, a university of interest may have been out of reach geographically. Presently, an employee located in the United States can register for classes taught half way around the world. Non-traditional venues outside of the more traditional classroom offer viable opportunities for continuing one’s education.

Adult learners make up the largest demographic of post-secondary institutions in the United States. For this student group, the benefits of online academic programs are:

o To update current skill sets

o To learn new skill sets

o To earn an undergraduate or graduate level degree

o The fulfillment of academic requirements necessary for a current job or promotion

o To change careers

o The satisfaction of certification or licensure requirements

o Personal and spiritual growth and development

Not for the faint of heart, success in distance education academic programs requires high levels of stamina, discipline, and motivation. A good candidate must be computer literate, possess the ability to read massive amounts of material in short-time frames, have good writing and communication skills, hold high expectations for good grades, enjoy applying critical thinking and commit a minimum of 15 hours per week per course (be prepared to allocate more, if necessary).

The Internet and the World Wide Web provide the critical technology platform for distance education. University technological and operational infrastructures (including hardware, software and transmission) provide the additional cornerstones to the technology platform needed to execute distance education programs. The delivery of academic content may be accomplished in several formats. The more traditional venues are correspondence courses, videos, audio-cassettes, CD-ROMS, and broadcasts via television and radio. Modern formats include synchronous and/or asynchronous education content distribution channels. Synchronous delivery refers to real-time interaction between instructor and student i.e., two-way video-conferences, whiteboards, chat rooms, telephone software (ex. Skype), and mobile technology devices. Asynchronous interaction does not involve real time communication. Instead, interaction between instructor and student is accomplished through the use of e-mail, DVDs, and the traditional education delivery formats.

As a student, you will need a desktop or laptop computer, an Internet Service provider, a cell phone, software (i.e., word processor, financial spreadsheet, calendar and Power Point), a backup storage disk drive (nothing can make your heart drop faster than losing a body of work that you’ve diligently developed), a headset with microphone for virtual team discussions and the traditional school supplies. Optional technology may include memory upgrades, scanners, digital scanners, and fax machines.

Ten Tips For The Successful Online Student:

o Have a credit card or debit card ready for downloading e-books and other required course reading materials.

o Maintain a list of more than one bookstore in the event that a required textbook is sold out. It’s always a good idea to obtain a list of the required textbooks midway through the term and order in advance for the following term.

o Do not be shy about asking for help if needed. I cannot stress enough the importance of communicating openly with your professor or instructor about course material that you may not understand. Online academic programs tend to move rapidly and course content that you do not understand will most likely cause problems down the road resulting in frustration and possibly, lower grades.

o Seek out a tutor. If there are areas that you know need strengthening, even before the class begins, have a tutor on stand-by. Also, the telephone number of a computer specialist should be in your rolodex.

o Time management will be critical. Keep a planner. Read your syllabus as soon as it becomes available and plan accordingly.

o Uphold your responsibilities as a virtual team member. Your contributions will directly impact the team grade.

o Exercise. Long hours at the computer can cause strain on the neck, shoulder, arm and back muscles, not to mention the hands. Remember to periodically stretch and tone.

o Eat a healthy diet. Keep good healthy recipes handy. Hydrate. Avoid heavy snacking on calorie-laden food and instead eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Avoid white flour and choose high fiber grains.

o See your doctor. A healthy body feeds a healthy mind.

o Stay in contact with your Academic Advisor to be sure that you are satisfying the requirements needed to complete your degree.

In the Fall term of 2006, 3.5 million students representing 20% of all U.S. higher education students, took at least one online course (2007. The Sloan Consortium). It is projected that distance education will continue to grow in popularity domestically and internationally. The most commonly offered online academic programs are Business, Computer Science and Engineering, Education, Engineering, Library Science, Nursing, and Public Health. Whether you select a community college, public institution, private institution or Ivy League university, enjoy the learning experience.

© 2007-2008 Jeanna Foy-Stanley