Distance Education and Learning. You CAN get your Degree Online!

Distance learning, or online education as it was called when I got my degree online, is a real way to earn a legitimate degree outside the traditional classroom setting. Before the internet was around, or became popular, distance learning was commonly called “taking correspondence courses”. This was because the courses, interaction, tests, etc. were all done by regular mail correspondence.

At that time, many, if not most, correspondence courses were viewed as being little more than “diploma mills”, where you just paid a certain amount and received a diploma without the actual work that traditional classroom education required. Degrees earned by correspondence were looked upon with disdain and sometimes it was better to have no degree at all than to let a potential employer know that you had a degree that was earned by taking courses by mail.

Those days are over! There certainly were, and still are, diploma mills and today there are distance learning institutions that provide a substandard level of education. Thankfully though that is the exception instead of the rule if you just follow some guidelines and do some research. This article will help you get started.

Distance learning has become an accepted way of getting a quality degree through online courses. Many, many institutions offer a very high quality online education. The internet has spread far and wide now and employers understand that in today's hectic world it is not always feasible to attend traditional classroom courses. Earning your degree by distance education has attained legitimacy and acceptance. There are accrediting agencies that set standards that online schools must meet, just as there are for physical classroom based institutions. We will get into accreditation shortly, but first you should ask yourself some questions.


Is distance learning for me?

Are you self motivated? Will you be able to keep up with your studies even if you don't have a set “classroom time”? What do I want to learn? These are the three most important questions you must ask yourself. I'll briefly tell you about my online learning experience and then explain why these questions are so important.

I had earned an Associate's Degree in a traditional classroom setting at a local college. Years later I had started taking classes towards my Bachelor's Degree at a local university. I quickly found out that I just couldn't do it because of my conflicting work schedule. I searched for and found an accredited online institution with a great reputation (more on how to do that later). As I began taking the courses for the Bachelor's Degree, I discovered that they were much harder than the traditional classroom courses I had taken. There was a lot of studying and homework. There were deadlines you had to meet. The tests were proctored and not open book. You had to know your stuff! Don't get me wrong, I loved that I was truly learning things and I greatly enjoyed the whole experience. My point is that it was a real education and was taken seriously by the school and the instructors. I completed the program and earned my Bachelor's Degree.

I had learned a great deal about many subjects through my courses. I had also learned a great deal about the differences between physical classroom education and distance education. Here's where the questions you need to ask yourself come in.

Are you self motivated? First and foremost, you must be a self-motivated person. There aren't any set times to meet for class so you are on your own to make sure that your assigned work gets done on time. For me this was actually great! I could fit my course work into any part of the day that was good for me. I didn't have to drive to the local university. I just had to walk to the computer. If something unplanned came up, I didn't have to miss class because now I was scheduling my class times! This was great! But, you truly have to be dedicated to getting the class work done. If you are a procrastinator, it is going to be difficult for you. You can still do it, but you may have to light a fire under yourself.

Will you be able to keep up with your studies even if you don't have a set “classroom time”? This goes along with motivation. We all know that life today can be hectic and it seems like there isn't time to do everything that we should. You have to realize that getting an education is an investment in yourself. It is an investment in your future. If you're reading this article it is because you or someone you know is considering distance education or getting an online degree. You must be serious about your time. Since there are no set classroom times it will be your responsibility to make sure you put the hours in and get the work done. This may mean giving up some other activities, but you have to set priorities since your goal is a better future for yourself. Personally, I considered the freedom to set my own hours of study to be one of the huge benefits of distance education, as it allowed me to set my own adjustable classroom times.

What do I want to learn? What area do I want my diploma or degree in? Many people use distance learning to obtain their GED or to complete high school. Others seek various degrees from Associate to PhD. A dose of reality is needed here. While you can get a degree online in a very, very wide range of subjects, realize that some areas of study (brain surgery, for instance) will require you to attend courses in a traditional classroom. I recommend doing plenty of research before you just dive in. Look at employment requirements for your chosen area of study. Talk to a few potential employers and see what they accept as meeting their educational requirements. Reputable distance education institutions will also be honest with you about whether or not distance education will work for your employment goals. Don't let this discourage you though, as a vast number of professions accept degrees earned online. It is also possible to earn distance learning degrees that require some in-classroom time by doing the bulk of the work online, then physically attending the university for a weekend or a few days each semester. This is another option to research as you check into your employment and degree requirements.


Accreditation and choosing your school

One of the most important things to consider when choosing an online school is their accreditation status. You will be making an investment in both time and money. Make sure that the institution you attend is accredited. Many employers may not accept your degree if it is not from an accredited institution. Finding out after the fact that you have a degree from a non-accredited school could be disastrous. Do your research when choosing your distance learning institution. Make sure they are accredited by a recognized accrediting agency for your area. In many countries, the government acts as the accrediting agency. In the United States accrediting agencies are not governmental and are national or regional in coverage. Again, do your research to find out what applies to your area and make sure you attend an accredited school. If you are pursuing a GED or high school diploma online make sure that the diploma issued upon completion will be recognized as official and acceptable in your area.

Seek a distance learning institution that has as good a reputation as possible. I understand that costs will vary and you will be limited by what you can afford. Find out their tuition, fees, typical book costs, and other costs that may be associated with that particular school and the degree you are seeking.

Find out what their admission process, requirements, and fees are. Make sure that you will meet their admission requirements before you apply, so that you don't waste any money by being rejected.

Find out if any credits that you may have earned elsewhere can be transferred. See if they offer credits for life and work experience. Consider taking a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test. Passing a CLEP test can earn you credits that you can apply towards your degree. Make sure the school you are considering will accept the CLEP credits first though, before you spend any money on taking the test. Receiving credits from any of these sources can lessen the number of courses you have to take and save you money.

Find out how their courses are structured. Typically students are set up with computer access to the school, school email, and links to their particular courses for the purpose of asking questions, discussions with other students, interaction with the instructor, quizzes, etc. Make sure that the course structure is one that fits your needs and schedule, and one that you are comfortable with.

Having done all this research I am sure you will have questions that may not be answered on the school's web site. Make a list of these questions and contact them. Phone contact is probably best, in case you have follow-up questions, but you can also contact them by email.

There are many resources online with further information on distance education and getting your degree online. There are also numerous books available that are quite helpful. When I was researching institutions for my Bachelor's Degree I found “Bear's Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning” to be very helpful.

Get started!

You CAN do this! Get motivated and make it happen! With today's technology getting an education and degree is now possible, even for those who cannot attend a traditional classroom because of other demands in their lives.

Some great distance learning resources!

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Comments 16 comments

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iluvmykids 5 years ago

Great hub. I have often considered taking online courses toward my Master's degree, and this has encouraged me that it is possible.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your comment iluvmykids. It really is possible and I truly enjoyed the courses. I have also thought about getting my Master's Degree, but as I get closer to retirement it is harder to justify. Best of luck with your degree!

slaffery profile image

slaffery 5 years ago from Kansas, USA

This was very useful to me as I am considering going back and have been in conversation with an online college to get started. I still have that stigma attached with online colleges that I need to get over. Thanks for sharing this hub and I know that it will be very useful to other. I plan on sharing with people as well. Voted up

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for your kind comments slaffery. I understand what you mean about the stigma that online schools once had. That has changed now and they are a very acceptable way of earning your degree. I think you will enjoy it!

Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 5 years ago from Nepal

I have done my writing course through distance and online education. I had to because the courses I was looking for were not available in my country. And I know when you cannot attend the traditional class, distance education is a great help.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Vinaya. The distance education courses really helped me when I couldn't go to traditional classroom courses because of my work schedule. Without the online courses I probably wouldn't have ever gotten my Bachelor's Degree. Thanks for your comments.

preacherdon profile image

preacherdon 5 years ago from Arkansas

Docbruin, this was quite a thorough and informative hub. I am looking at returning to school to finish my degree. Your information was quite helpful. Thanks. Voted up useful and interesting.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks preacherdon! I am glad that you enjoyed the hub and found it useful. Thanks for your comments! Good luck with your degree!

mbaker2012 profile image

mbaker2012 5 years ago

Can you apply financial aid to online education too?

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi mbaker2012! Yes, you can get financial aid for online education. There are a number of possibilities, including government aid, grants, scholarships, and private loans. Check with the school you are interested in and also do some online research and you should be able to find numerous possible options.

kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago

This is good info about distance learning and getting an online degree, docbruin. accreditation is important, indeed. Thanks.

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

I agree, kimh039, accreditation is one for the most important aspects one needs to check on when choosing a college. Unfortunately too many people don't find that out until they have spent a lot of money on a degree that may not help them. Thanks for your comment!

mythicalstorm273 profile image

mythicalstorm273 5 years ago

This was very nicely done! I am currently working towards becoming a teacher through an online school. Most people were shocked when they first found out, but I still have to do the student teaching and observing in real life. I just get to take the classes that teach me policies and procedures online. It is pretty exciting and it works really nicely around working full time until I get the chance to teach. Awesome job :-)

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi mythicalstorm273! Thanks for reading my hub and for your comments. The online courses are a great way to get some or all of your degree completed on a schedule that works for you. I know that in some cases, such as yours, you still have to attend traditional classes, but the online classes will give you a great start. Good luck with your courses and with your teaching career!

mythicalstorm273 profile image

mythicalstorm273 5 years ago

Thanks docbruin! It helps that I already have a B.A. so I have the ability to do advanced college courses with less problems than somebody who might not be aware of the work load. But Thank you for the luck!!

docbruin profile image

docbruin 5 years ago from USA Author

I am sure you will do fine, especially having already completed your B.A.! It does really help when you know what to expect and how to handle the course load! Again, best of luck.

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