From the October, 1998 PC ALAMODE Magazine:
Getting an Online Education
 
by Liz Newcomb

Do you want to learn more about a subject or get a degree but you don't have the time and resources to attend traditional classes? An online education may be just the solution. But, what type of classes and degrees are available via the Internet, and where do you find these offerings? Are these courses and degrees as "good" as traditional courses? Will employers hire you with an online degree? What are online courses like and how much do they cost? Let's explore how you can find answers to these and other questions related to on-line education. 

So you don't have time to take a traditional course.

With the rapid pace of our society, we try cramming thirty plus hours of activities into twenty-four hour days. Left with little time, we are still faced with the need to continue learning. Perhaps you need to learn more about a subject in order to stay competitive in your profession. You may just want to stay informed, enhance your current skills, or learn new skills for personal reasons or in order to keep pace with rapid changes. Whatever your reasons, online courses may help relieve your time drain by saving you travel time and by providing flexibility to fit your schedule anytime and anywhere, day or night.

 Some online courses are available in real time when the course is actually being taught. This is referred to as synchronous learning. The majority of online courses are not available in real time environments, but are always available to the learner without either the instructor or other students actually being logged on. This is referred to as asynchronous learning. 

Many college and university courses are using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences as part of a course. Most often these online courses are taken from remote locations such as your home, your office, or any other location such as your hotel room while on a business trip or vacation. As long as you have access to a computer with the ability to connect to the Internet you can take a course. So a business or pleasure trip doesn't need to interfere with your education. Often working adults find these classes most beneficial. If your job requires specific certification, these courses may be available online and you can take them when the kids are asleep and you're in your pajamas sipping a café late. Ah, that's the life!
 
 

What are online course, and what should you expect to pay per course?

Online courses can be taken from variety of sources. Some of the courses are the equivalent of continuing education courses and are offered at many web sites for free. Other courses are offered as part of online and typical degree programs at colleges and universities, and the cost of these courses can range from the regular per hour university charge to a great deal more. Often out-of-state or country charges don't apply to online courses. This is a bonus for the online learner. This allows you to have greater flexibility in shopping for the best institution and instructor to teach the course you want. Note, some colleges and universities are even offering high school students the opportunity to take university level courses from their home or high school. Visit A Guide to Online Education at http://fcae.nova.edu/~kearsley/online.html to learn more. If you're wondering about financing your online education visit http://www.lifelonglearning.com

How do you find courses and degrees on the Internet?

Have you been wondering how to find the course you need or want to take? Well wonder no more. Visit http://www.lifelonglearning.com and search their online database of distance learning courses. This site contains links to all accredited distance courses. A search of institutions delivering courses to a Texas resident returned over 800 possible choices. Please note however, that not all of these choices deliver course completely over the Internet. Some of the distance courses are delivered by videoconferencing from centralized locations. The Lifelong Learning Site also allows you to locate available subjects or programs and provides links directly to the institutions offering these subjects.

 A site developed by high school students for the ThinkQuest contest also provides information about colleges and universities and links to many other related resources. It is located at http://library.advanced.org/10378

If you are thinking of taking an online course, you should visit The Online World Resource Handbook by Odd de Presno. It is a great resource and is located at http://www.simtel.net/simtel.net/presno/bok/index.html. Read Part 2, #5 and Appendices A2 and A3. These sections lead you to information about educational sites, getting started online and using online resources for the first time. The Virtual University Gazette provides a monthly listing of new online courses at http://www.geteducated.com

What type of classes and degrees are available on the Internet?

Just about any subject from astronomy to zoology is offered online or currently being developed to be offered online and all types of degrees and certifications are also available. For non-degree or certificate learners, many of these courses are free and offered by experts in their field. Online learning allows you to access the expertise of the world community.
 
 

Do employers hire individuals with online degrees?

Employers who understand the quality of many online programs are hiring individuals with online degrees. I know of individuals in San Antonio who have received online degrees and have been hired by major organizations. As more and more quality universities offer these degrees, they will become commonly accepted. If you are a student seeking a first time degree you might need to weigh the value of online education with that of more traditional education. If you have an idea of the type of workplace you want to enter, you might contact some of these organizations and explore how they feel about an online education. Many debates about this topic are taking place both on and off line. You may want to join a listserv and add your opinion to this discussion.
 
 

How do online courses compare to traditional courses?

Most university online courses provide elements common in traditional courses such as syllabi, course notes and reading materials, assignments, and some provide more traditional lectures formats on video clips or audio complete with PowerPoint slides. Often the front door to these online courses is the institution's virtual university and many of the same resources that would be available on campus to a student are available to the online learner as well.

 Those who have taken both traditional and online course feel that online courses require more motivation on the part of the learner since they are less structured. They require the learner to become more focused and disciplined. Many have reported that these courses have been extremely rewarding, and that they have made many new friends through online discussion.

 These courses are also often free from gender, economic, and other biases found in traditional settings. Since online courses have the ability to bring together students and instructors separated by great distances and time, they often provide a more comprehensive view of a given subject. This is very valuable in the learning experience. Online students and instructors report increased productivity in this global educational environment. 

What other ways can I learn on the Internet?

Remember, online courses are just one of the many, many ways to learn. There are many varied resources that provide educational opportunities including listservs, web pages, libraries, newsgroups and online magazines. Jump online and use your favorite search engines to help you locate the information you want to learn more about and have fun. I know I am ready to take an online course or two, how about you? 

Liz Newcomb is an educational consultant working on the UT System Multimedia Assessment Project and the Instructional Design and Authoring Collaboratory. She is also a consultant with a local computer company working on the development and marketing of a new software product.