Online schools have come a long way -- how to choose one

Online schools have come a long way -- how to choose one

Online school used to carry a major stigma. Now it's as common and accepted as your parents having a Facebook account.

According to recent data collected by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, almost three million students are currently enrolled in a fully online program. And we're not just talking for-profit schools, either: 65 percent of online students take courses at not-for-profit public and private schools.

In fact, you'll find three kinds of online degree programs these days: fully online schools, non-traditional online schools, and traditional colleges with fully online programs. Consider all three carefully before making your decision.

Fully online schools

This seems to be the most recognized kind of online school. The University of Phoenix, for example, has a larger market share than any school, with 15 percent of online students taking courses there, according to The Learning House, Inc. study. But is this the kind of institution for you?

The beauty of fully online schools is that the courses are designed to be taken online. These aren't classes that are both offered online and in the classroom. They're not in-person classes slightly adjusted for the online student. This means you're taking classes with other online students, underneath a professor who has formed lesson plans to best optimize this medium of learning.

At the same time, consider where you want to work after graduation. As mentioned in the article "Can an Online Degree Really Help You Get a Job?" by Time, some employers are unfamiliar with online education and reluctant to hire graduates from schools they don't recognize. Some online schools have begun to recognize that, and are forming official and unofficial partnerships with companies such as UPS, MGM and Walmart.

Non-traditional online schools

As recently reported by The New York Times, a few non-traditional online schools have been growing in popularity lately, such as Thomas Edison State College. What makes Thomas Edison and schools like it so unique is that on top of offering online courses, they grant credits based on possession of college-level knowledge, exams and portfolios.

One person mentioned in the New York Times article even got credits by proving his economics knowledge in a two-hour phone conversation with a professor. It doesn't get much more flexible than that.

If you have lots of credits from other institutions, a great portfolio, or possess college-level knowledge you think is worthy of academic recognition, then this might be the online college you've been looking for. If that doesn't describe you, then these kinds of schools will probably not stand out above other online schools for you.

Traditional colleges with fully online programs

More and more traditional colleges are offering entire degree programs online. San Jose State University in California, Liberty University and the University of Illinois-Springfield are just a few of the colleges that have begun offering the opportunity for students to earn their degrees completely online. Whether you should take this route or not depends on your field and career goals.

Online MBA programs, for example, have become pretty accepted in the business world at large. According to a 2012 study published by the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, a vast majority of hiring managers from leading companies surveyed said it wouldn't make a difference if a student earned an MBA from the University of Wisconsin's online MBA program or an on-campus full-time MBA program.

One of the compelling benefits about online programs at traditional schools is that you may not have to worry about potential employers being familiar with online education. They might just glance at the school and not even care or notice that you earned the degree online. This helps you dodge any sort of misconceptions they might have about online schooling.

Just make sure that the program is meant to be online. If it's a program offered both online and on campus, a risk exists for there to be crossover. For example, online students might just be watching videos of in-class lectures. That might work for you, but some students may prefer taking courses with other online students, taught by a professor who isn't balancing both kinds of students.

Distance learning has made great strides thanks to online degree programs. Whether you are considering an online program to advance your career or to launch a new career, you've got more online learning options than ever before.

Sources:

Online Colleges Students 2012, Learning House, 2013, http://www.learninghouse.com/online-college-students-2012-report/

"Can an Online Degree Really Help You Get a Job?" Time, October 18, 2012, http://nation.time.com/2012/10/18/can-an-online-degree-really-help-you-get-a-job/

"Adults Are Flocking to College That Paved Way for Flexibility," The New York Times, February 24, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/education/25degree.html?pagewanted=1&_r=4&hpw&

"Hiring Managers' Perceptions of the Value of an Online MBA," Jeffrey S. Bailey, Larry V. Flegle, http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer152/bailey_flegle152.html

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