Cost and quality

Online education is the buzz of the decade. But it is not for everyone, and it requires getting used to the technology. Adult students can and should be selective in choosing a graduate program because master’s of business administration (MBA) programs at a private school can cost from $15,000 to more than $100,000.

As schools move beyond their main campuses to offer programs nationwide, the business of higher education has become very competitive. In South Florida alone, students can choose from more than 30 universities and colleges to complete various degrees. Many of the top schools offer the complete MBA program online, taught by many of the same faculty members who teach in the traditional programs at the main campuses.

Accordingly, the quality and outcomes achieved are likely to be the same for all programs. Research comparing student outcomes between online and on-ground classes demonstrate that there is learning equivalency between the two modalities.

There are different types of Internet-based courses.

First, there are distance learning programs, which are supplemented by the use of Internet technologies as a support mechanism, as opposed to being the primary medium of delivery.

Second, there is the computer conferencing medium, in which the Internet is the primary delivery utilizing asynchronous discussions and e-mails. Finally, there is the virtual course, in which all or most aspects of the course are delivered online.

Some universities, such as the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, allow students to complete all their course requirements online, but they may also choose to take some or all of their courses on-ground.

Virtual classes have a teacher or facilitator directing discussions, submitting assignments and providing weekly feedback to students. Experienced and skilled online educators use colorful graphics, audio and video streams, and hypertext links to enhance the learning experience.

Online, adult students are expected to be actively involved in the knowledge generation process, as well as interact regularly with the instructor and their colleagues about the material being taught. Faculty members make the difference in student learning because their facilitation skills can either be exciting or boring.

Online faculty members tend to involve students through formal and informal facilitation, because that is what leads to real learning. As such, the faculty serves as a facilitator in the learning process, as is the case in on-ground sessions.

When choosing a graduate online program, prospective students should:

1. Assess their learning styles, preferences and interests.

2. Assemble a list of programs that are likely to best meet those needs.

3. Learn about the credentials of the faculty and their teaching philosophy to see if they match or accommodate their dominant learning style.

4. Interview the school’s administrators and advisers to determine student services offerings and the level of technical assistance offered to online students.

5. Determine each program’s graduation and employability rates, as well as the program’s overall rankings.

6. Spend more time with the programs that look the most attractive to understand the school, its culture and its overall quality.

7. Select a program that best matches their needs and that provides helpful information to make sure students are able to finish the program in a reasonable time period.

Because students have many choices in today’s competitive environment, schools must also understand students’ needs and offer them the appropriate tools so they successfully use today’s cyberspace technologies.

Of course, virtual courses are likely to require students and faculty members to have the latest computer hardware and updated user skills, so if you are not technologically competent, stick with traditional classes for the time being and quickly update yourself with computers, Internet surfing and uploading and downloading files in cyberspace, because online education will, at some point, be part of your learning experience.

BAHAUDIN MUJTABA, D.B.A., is an assistant professor and the director of institutional relations, planning and accreditation for Nova Southeastern University at the School of Business. He is a former senior training specialist and manager of Publix Super Markets. Bahaudin recently co-authored a business ethics textbook published by Pearson Custom Publications. Reach him at (954) 262-5045 or Mujtaba@nova.edu.

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