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Interested in Online Education?
Thinking About Non-Traditional Study?
This Hub Page is one of many I am writing to help adults who may be interested in studying or obtaining a degree through non-traditional educational channels, such as online or other forms of “distance” education. I am a career educator/trainer, and I obtained my final degree, a doctorate in business administration and management with a specialization in marketing, through distance education.
More than fifteen years ago while I was studying at Walden University, I conducted a national survey of more than 800 adult distance education students as the foundation of research for my doctoral dissertation. Since I completed my PhD, I have been intensely aware of the need many adult students have for answers to crucial personal and non-personal questions faced when considering non-traditional study and learning.
Insight from Insiders ...
Back when I was still considering whether or not to do it, of course I could have gone online and to the schools’ websites to learn about their programs, but I wanted unbiased, objective information.
I wanted to hear from people who had studied from a distance, who had actually obtained a degree through non-traditional study. Now that it is going on sixteen years since I completed my doctorate, I can see that what I needed prior to enrolling in a non-traditional degree program was a sympathetic guide who could take me through and beyond the processes and procedures I needed to become enrolled in a program. I needed to talk to people who had done what I was thinking about doing; people who could tell me what non-traditional education and study was really like. Would I make a good “distance learner?” Would I be able to manage my time well, study, and complete my work without face-to-face, in-class instruction? How would I be as an independent learner? Would I love it, or would I hate it?
Before I began my doctoral study, I engaged in an exhaustive search for information about non-traditional educational choices. Thankfully, I was able to find a few books providing general information about non-traditional study, and about schools providing distance education. But non-traditional education was fairly new in the U. S. at that time, so I was never able to find any resource with answers to all the different kinds of questions I needed answers to before deciding whether or not to pursue my last degree through non-traditional channels.
I had earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from traditional brick and mortar institutions, so I was a bit skeptical about straying from the traditional path for my doctorate. I had a lot of questions about this thing that was called “distance education,” and I wasn't able to find many answers. Now, looking back, I realize that what I needed was a sort of “non-traditional education advisor.” I never found any book or any online reference source that met my needs, but I took the plunge anyway, and I'm glad I did.
Replacing Image Problems with Meeting of Expectations ...
While distance education is more accepted today than it was when I became a non-traditional student, it still has, to some degree, problems related to image when it comes to the perceived quality and respectability of degrees that are obtained through online or other distance modes of learning. Back when I conducted my research study (in 1996), I spoke with a number of adult distance education students who said they felt there was an “image” problem associated with distance education.
The students I surveyed attributed some of the problem to non-traditional schools that had been found to be “diploma mills.” In other words, the practices of a few or several unscrupulous external degree-granting institutions, many of my respondents said, were still tainting the image of all non-traditional colleges and universities, whether or not they were “accredited” institutions of higher learning (I’ll discuss accreditation and what it means in another of my “Non-Traditional Education” Hub Pages).
Since the “diploma-mill-image-tarnishing” was largely based on acts perpetrated by schools that were unaccredited, "so-called" schools that basically sold mail-order degrees, the students I surveyed in my research study said they felt that it was not fair that regionally accredited, technologically advanced, quality distance education providers were still being “stigmatized” by the practices of disreputable institutions.
Now, as someone who enjoyed experiencing non-traditional study by attending Walden University for my doctorate, I know that the undeserved tarnished image for many non-traditional schools is like a "stink bug" crawling on a rose petal. It might be there for a reason, but thankfully, it is temporary, and not a lasting part of the rose. Good, non-traditional education is out there, and it is possible to get the education you need and desire through non-traditional study.
As long as schools prepare and present strong curricula and qualified professionals/professors to administer programs and teach classes, then there are endless opportunities for students to get what they need in terms of education and learning, from distance education programs. Still, this mode of study is not for everyone, and it is up to each and every person considering non-traditional study to make sure they are prepared to give it all they've got. Because, with this or any mode of study, you will get out of it what you are willing to put into it.
Today, there is a lot more interest in non-traditional education alternatives, and more and more traditional colleges and universities are adding distance components to their repertoire of offerings as well. And, as more students earn their degrees through non-traditional institutions, the image of online and other distance alternatives is also becoming updated. Schools such as Kaplan University, the University of Phoenix, and Walden University (my doctoral Alma mater), for example, have gained prominence and notoriety through the years based on the caliber/quality and proven capabilities, of their product (their graduates).
Research Study, Key Findings ...
In general, online education is growing fast. In fact, its growth is outpacing the rate of enrollment in traditional “classroom-based” educational offerings, according to a 2010 report by the Babson Survey Research Group at Babson College. The study reports that the rate of online enrollment (courses offered by traditional and non-traditional schools) is ten times that of all of higher education. The report also shows growing year-to-year enrollment for fully online programs.
Other “key findings” of the report include:
- Most traditional higher education institutions (65%) are now saying online learning is critical to their long-term strategy.
- More than 31% of students now take at least one online course.
- More than 6.1 million students were enrolled in at least one online course during the fall 2010 term. This represented a 560,000-student increase from the previous year.
Although the previously mentioned study found that many academic leaders now feel the level of student satisfaction is the same for online as for face-to-face instruction, the image problem of online learning still lingers in some corridors of academia. Some leaders still are concerned about the quality of online instruction and see it as being “less than” that achieved by courses delivered face-to-face, using traditional classroom instructional methods. (See links below for more of my HubPages on distance education/learning.)
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD