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Going the Distance
Earning a College Degree Online

There is a tsunami growing in higher education and it's called online learning. Currently, over 2.5 million students are now taking online courses and/or earning online college degrees, with 10% to 15% growth expected over the next ten years, both domestically and internationally.

The reason is simple: online degrees offer quality, flexibility and convenience. You no longer have to leave your home (or country) to complete your assignments or interact with your classmates and instructor. Best of all, most (but not all) online degree programs are offered "asynchronously", which means students don't have to log-in on a specified day and time to participate and complete the online course. Assignments are typically assigned for the week, and students are permitted to work their schedule around their assignments.

Today, you can earn just about any degree online (associate, undergraduate and graduate) from dozens of private and public colleges in the United States. The Sloan Consortium maintains a catalog of degree and certificate programs offered by a wide range of regionally accredited institutions at www.sloan-c.org.

Case Study

Douglas Keck is a good example of today's online student. Dr. Keck is a pediatric dentist in Connecticut, who is completing an online Master's Degree in Higher Education from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Dr. Keck plans to use his Master's Degree to expand his career options-- perhaps moving into an academic administrative position at a dental school.

"Without the online option, I would have needed to scale back or give up my dental practice to complete my Master's degree," states Dr. Keck. "I'm nearly halfway through my program, and it's been a wonderful and educationally enriching experience."

Learning online is very different from learning in a traditional classroom. Online, the instructor uses a variety of different online "tools" to present the course content and facilitate discussions between students. Online students are often directed to read scholarly papers and journals online, watch and listen to their professor's narrated PowerPoint presentations or video lessons, and create Podcast interviews with subject matter experts.

Online students communicate with each other and their instructor through text and audio message boards, e-mail (text and voice), group discussions, live chat rooms, and posted daily announcements. Ultimately, the instructor will assign a grade based on test scores (yes, online tests), papers, individual and group projects, quality of participation in the discussion boards, and a student's overall contribution to the course.

But online learning is not for all students. Students who succeed in an online learning course are self-directed and self-disciplined, possess good time-management and writing skills, are able to prioritize their work and family commitments, and have a general love for learning.

With more and more colleges, both in the United States and throughout the world offering online degrees, it's critically important that prospective students closely evaluate the merits of each program (i.e. accreditation, asynchronous vs. synchronous, depth of online resources, quality of faculty, etc.). Your investment of time and money, in the end, should result in a quality experience equal to or greater than the traditional classroom.

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