Online Learning

Distance Education

Distance Education is Moving Online

If there is any difference in the level of education provided by a distance program versus traditional face-to-face classrooms, distance education continues to demonstrate solid trends as to why it’s likely the better option. All of the studies conducted since the 1920s conclude that distance learners perform just as well, and often better, than students in a face-to-face classroom.

The fastest growing segment of distance education is internet courses and degree programs. According to data made available from the Sloan Consortium, 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online class in the 2009 school year; up one million from just one year prior. 30% of all college students take at least one of their classes online, and many students earn their undergraduate degree or graduate degree completely online.

Many of these educational programs are accredited. There are a number of different bodies that offer accreditation for educational institutions. The most credible of those are recognized by the Secretary of Education, though the U.S. Department of Education itself does not grant accreditation to any institution. Currently, the most popular enrollments for online learning programs are in undergraduate engineering degrees, MBAs and graduate law school.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 66% of all institutions of higher learning offer some form of distance learning program. 97% of all two-year public schools, 89% of all four-year public schools, 70% of all four-year private for-profit schools and 55% of all four-year private non-profit schools offer some type of distance learning class or program.

There are a number of benefits to obtaining a distance education. The flexibility and low cost compared to a traditional face-to-face program are among the top reasons. Students also enjoy the lower student-to-faculty ratio. Some classes in larger universities have hundreds of students per class and only one instructor.

The National Education Association (NEA) reports that 31% of all online classes have between one and thirty students per class and 33% have twenty one to forty students. This means that instructors can devote much more of their time to individuals in the class. Most online classes provide a number of ways to communicate with the class instructor, with email and chat being the most common. There are a few (about 17%) online schools that have class sizes up to 400. The NEA is currently studying the quality of education provided by different sizes of online classes.

Students who have exchanged email addresses with their instructor often benefit from the fact that this allows them to stay in touch with the instructor even after the class is over. This is not only helpful in case they need help with questions they might have later in their education, and it also helps them to get valuable references for their resume upon graduation.

Another reason many students prefer a distance education is that they can earn their certificate or degree faster. A bachelor's degree can be earned online in 18 months, whereas a face-to-face class setting requires four years to achieve the 280-285 credits necessary to graduate.

Online classes also tend to offer a better mix of theoretical knowledge and practical training than the traditional classes. The interactive nature of learning online allows students to practice skills in a way that is impossible in the typical classroom. This is perhaps one of the reasons that students learning online outperform the others.

Distance learning online is especially valuable in fields that are constantly changing due to new technologies, industry regulations and other factors. Most of the online syllabi are updated every six months, and almost all of them are updated more regularly than standard class syllabus. This insures that students learning online are learning the absolute latest information about the field they are planning to enter.

Distance learning online is also expanding rapidly, with two thirds of all for-profit institutions saying that their online learning programs are a critical part of their long-term educational strategies. The University Professional & Continuing Education Association also expects huge growth in the coming years in online learning programs. The fastest growth is being seen in female and minority students.

The growth in the numbers of bachelor's degree recipients age twenty five to twenty nine has remained flat since 1996, but older students are starting to earn their bachelor's degrees at higher rates. This is partly due to the recent economic recession. Three quarters of all institutions of higher learning reported that online courses and programs were in higher demand due to the recession. Only half of these institutions reported that their face-to-face classes were in higher demand.

Colleges and universities that offer online degree programs have higher average student ages than other institutions. The University of Phoenix offers 300,000 of their 400,000 classes online and their average student is thirty five to thirty seven years old. Comparatively, the University of Notre Dame has an average student age of only twenty seven.

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