Have you ever dreamed of earning a degree without setting foot in a classroom? Are you self-motivated and a whiz on the Internet but lack the time needed to enroll in an on-campus program? If so, a distance learning program in allied health may be right for you.
Clearly, distance learning (or eLearning) is a great option that enables you to work at your own pace and in your own space. However, it is not the best choice for everyone. According to Josh Baron, director of academic technology and eLearning at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., there are some important pros and cons to consider before firing up your laptop and taking the plunge into the world of cyber-school.
Education Anytime, Anywhere
One of the major benefits of distance learning is that it enables students to participate in quality learning, anytime, anywhere, Baron states. "For many students, especially adult learners, one of the most significant Ôpros' is the ability to learn on your own time instead of having to attend regularly scheduled classes," he says. For students who are working full time or are unable to commute to classes at specific times, distance learning provides an opportunity for flexibility. Your geographic location will not limit you to local programs, and you can often save money through lower program costs and zero commuting expenses.
In addition, a digital learning experience is more interactive. The multimedia regularly used in distance learning programs engages and connects with students in new and unique ways, and it can often be a more effective teaching tool than traditional educational aids such as textbooks. Learning is instantaneous; there is no lost time idly flipping through pages or commuting to and from school. The learning and the benefits of new knowledge are immediate.
Furthermore, distance learning may help take the bias out of the educational process.
"Distance learning programs can often be great equalizers, breaking down stereotypes that often arise in face-to-face courses. Since you often never see each other, racial and other stereotypes do not surface as often," Baron offers. This may result in the grading process being more fair and objective as well.
Challenges of Electronic Education
Despite all their benefits, distance learning programs are not without their drawbacks. Students need to be accountable for their own learning, which can be a formidable task. "The Ôfreedom' that comes with distance learning also comes with an increase in responsibilities," says Baron. For students who are accustomed to a traditional classroom setting, it can be difficult to stay self-motivated. It's crucial to exercise good time management. If you crave structure, look elsewhere, but if you prefer to be on your own timetable, then eLearning plays to your strengths.
Another challenge that students may face comes from the reliance on new technology. It's important to remember that computers are machines, and like all machines, they can break or malfunction, cutting into valuable learning time. Furthermore, it is also necessary for students to be up to speed with their computer knowledge. This may require more training to obtain new skills for optimum participation in distance learning.
Some students may also dislike the lack of face-to-face interaction. Without students and teachers meeting in person, communication blunders may arise. Baron adds that without the benefit of eye contact and other visual cues, statements can be misconstrued and jokes taken seriously. For successful eLearning, it is important to develop new communication skills for the electronic age.
Selecting a Program
Research is an extremely important step when applying to any type of higher education program. As you beginto research distance learning programs, expect to dedicate a considerable amount of time to exploring programs and learning about your options. Be sure to visit program Web sites to read about the courses and curriculum to see if they fit your interests. Talk to employers and professionals in the field and ask about the reputations of the particular programs you are considering.
Contact the admissions or career placement professionals at each school to see if they can put you in touch with recent graduates. When you contact the programs' alumni, find out what they are doing now and how they feel about their educational experience. Speaking to them will help you ascertain how marketable the degree is and will give you insight into the pros and cons of the different programs. Don't overlook this step; it can be an invaluable part of your decision-making process.
Perusing an advanced degree—whether at a traditional university or an online one—is a huge investment of both time and money, so you want to be sure you will receive a valuable degree in return. Baron recommends making sure that the institution is accredited by an official accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. A degree from a non-accredited institution is usually not valued by employers and may cause problems if you ever need to transfer credits. For more information, take a look at Baron's article on this topic at www.elearners.com/ resources/accreditation.asp.
Once you've decided that distance learning is right for you, the process of choosing a program is not different from the criteria you would use to select any graduate program in allied health; the programs themselves are oftentimes not so different either. As Baron states, distance learning is more of an "evolution" than a "revolution." Although the Web brings major innovation to the world of learning, it still comes down to good teachers and motivated students to make the process successful. Remember, your career goals are only a click away.