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Advantages of Online Learning

Article Title: The "Distance Learning Phenomenon" is Changing The Face of Higher Learning In America
Author: Justin Brown

Distance learning programs - college courses taught over the Internet - have really taken off in recent years. As home computer ownership has expanded, due in part to lower prices and increased interest in the Net, the idea of working on a college degree in the comfort of one's home has struck a chord. It's definitely one of the more practical uses of online technology.

There are many advantages to distance learning.
First, there is the convenience aspect for students. There's no need to get ready (shower, shave, dress), no commute, and no walking from one side of the campus to the other to get to the next class. Additionally, in many cases there is no set meeting time, so no rushing to get to class on time.

Many courses involve downloadable lectures, giving students maximum flexibility. This has been enormously helpful for those who work full-time jobs during what are traditionally considered "normal" class hours. Now, the working distance learning student can keep a busy work schedule and still keep up with lectures and coursework. Likewise, the flexible structure has made life easier for many professors as well, who also deal with time pressures and scheduling constraints.

Another big advantage that distance learning offers versus in-person classroom attendance is money savings. With traditional college educations, there are everyday expenses that quickly add up:

1 Gas, if you commute (which is now an even larger expense!)
2 Vehicle maintenance or bus fare
3 Dorm room fees, if you live on campus
4 Meals at a local restaurant or campus cafeteria
5 Clothing, makeup, etc.

Distance learning eliminates virtually all of that! Additionally, more and more programs are becoming nearly or even completely paperless. No more outrageous textbook fees, blue books, pens, Scantron forms, book bags, and all the other incidentals that accompany the old way of doing things.

The savings extend beyond just what the individual students experience directly. Universities also save tremendously, especially the newer ones that have been built around the distance learning model. Class size is more manageable in a virtual environment, reducing the teaching work force and building space needs at many colleges. Moreover, a significant advantage for many universities is that more time can be spent by professors on critical research and scholarship, which is how many institutions earn reputations and make their money.

College tuition inflation is also a real and growing problem. And it's borne by many students who already struggle just to make ends meet. At some traditional universities, tuition is increasing at an astonishing 10-15% annually, pricing potential attendees out of the running. This situation illustrates another advantage of distance learning. Institutions created specifically around the off-site education model offer comparable instructional quality at greatly reduced tuition rates.

The only potential cost disadvantage with distance learning is for students who do not already own a computer. However, this is increasingly a non-issue, since personal computer ownership, especially among teens, is rapidly expanding. And the cost for a basic PC has come way down in recent years.

How to pick the best distance learning program for your needs:
Once you decide to pursue a degree from an online distance education institution, there are a few steps you should follow. First, get on the Web and research the various schools. This is arguably the most important part of the entire process, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Just do a search at a major search engine, like Google or Yahoo, and use the phrase 'online education' or 'distance learning schools.' You'll want to weed out the non-accredited schools first.

What does accredited mean? Good question! For standard higher education institutions and colleges, there are six regional accrediting associations in the United States. They review an institution's standards, curriculum, and degree requirements, and issue accreditations for schools in their geographical areas that meet their criteria. This process takes place for a wide variety of colleges and universities, ranging from small community and junior colleges to the giants of academia, like Harvard and Yale. The six accrediting associations are:

1 Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
2 New England Association of Schools and Colleges
3 North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
4 Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
5 Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
6 Western Association of Schools and Colleges

If you're pursuing a degree in a specialized field from a school that focuses exclusively or mainly on just that field - religion, health, technical, computer-related - look for one of the following accreditations:

1 Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges
2 Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools
3 Accrediting Commission for Career Schools/Colleges of Technology
4 Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
5 Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools
6 The Association of Theological Schools
7 Council on Occupational Education
8 Distance Education and Training Council

*Note: accreditation does not guarantee a superior (or even adequate) educational experience. Be sure to look into each school's history to discover any complaints or legal troubles they've had or are having currently.

Next, when you have culled your list of potential schools based on accreditation and a clean track record, visit each institution's website or call them to learn if they offer the exact program you're interested in. If you're not sure of the degree you need or want, set up a phone or face-to-face meeting with an advisor, which most of these colleges will provide at no charge. The key is to keep looking until you've found the program that most closely matches your goals. Go through your entire list before you jump into any admissions process at a particular school.

For most students, tuition differences will also be a pivotal deciding factor. The costs vary considerably from school to school, but are generally about one-half of the fees you would pay at traditional colleges. That's good news! Here's more: the vast majority of these distance learning institutions will accept the same tuition assistance, grants, and government loan payments that other colleges always have. Moreover, if you're already working in a career and are seeking a degree to advance, more and more employers will reimburse part or all of the tuition, as long as you get satisfactory grades. Here are a couple of examples of tuition fees at two of the bigger, accredited distance learning schools:

University of Phoenix (general)
1 Bachelor's Degree: $440/credit hour
2 Master's Degree: $545/credit hour
3 Doctoral Degree: $620/credit hour

DeVry University Online (specialized)
1 Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology: $395/credit hour
2 Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration: $460/credit hour
3 Bachelor's Degree in Computer Information Systems: $460/credit hour
4 Bachelor's Degree in Technical Management: $460/credit hour

Finally, be sure to factor in differences in coursework loads and how many terms you must commit to in order to earn your degree. If you're younger and work only part-time, you can probably handle a full load and faster advancement. But many folks who find distance learning colleges appealing already have careers and families and cannot pursue their degrees full-time. By screening your choices with a realistic eye on your personal schedule, you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress later on, once you've paid for and are taking courses online. As with most endeavors in life, careful planning and research first will make life simpler after you choose a distance learning program and begin your higher education journey. Good luck!

About The Author
Justin Brown is a successful business writer and educational advisor providing valuable tips and advice for career minded individuals who are interested in pursuing a distance learning associate degree, bachelor's degree, master degree, doctorate degree or a MBA degree. His numerous articles offer career advancement tips and valuable distance education insight.