Distance learning Featured

8:00pm EDT April 26, 2006
Whether sharpening skills in preparation for a promotion or exploring options for a career change, a growing number of working professionals are returning to the classroom. Still, workers have a strong commitment to maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

Distance learning fits the bill, allowing many employees to work and live and learn, says Elden Monday, state vice president for University of Phoenix’s local campuses in Pennsylvania. These days, nearly all education institutions offer some form of distance learning, and the student population is burgeoning.

Smart Business spoke with Monday about how distance learning programs help working individuals reach their educational and professional goals, and what a potential student should consider before entering a virtual classroom.


What is distance learning?
For those who are not directly affiliated with the world of higher education, the concept of distance learning may be vague — especially because this type of education can take so many forms.

Simply put, distance learning is any learning that happens outside the classroom setting. Although some distance learning programs incorporate the option to engage in some learning in person, the majority of coursework is completed independently, away from a college or university campus. These days, distance learning is most commonly conducted online, in which lectures, assignments and even group discussions occur through an Internet portal.


What are the advantages of distance learning?
Beyond the obvious benefits of flexibility and convenience, there are numerous distinct advantages. For example, because the information is presented in text form, students never miss an important point. In addition, most colleges and universities that offer distance learning programs have also established a full range of online research libraries and services, which provide immediate access to all the tools a student needs.

Further, distance learning preserves all the important aspects of a traditional learning environment. Skills such as written communication are even more pronounced through distance learning, because the majority of interaction takes place through e-mails, chat sessions and other forms of written dialogue.


What are some of the reasons why a student would enroll in distance learning, rather than in a course at a local college or university?
For many working individuals, the desire to excel in the workplace is strong — but not at the expense of family and other personal commitments away from the office. Distance learning allows students to gain knowledge that will be instrumental for career growth in a convenient setting and on their own schedules. Many online classes are conducted asynchronously, rather than in real time, so coursework can be completed when and where it is convenient for the student.


Is technology sufficiently developed to allow for a user-friendly distance learning experience?
Absolutely. Although the specific method of access varies among colleges and universities, most distance learning programs are very simple to interact with. In most cases, all a student needs is a computer, a phone connection, an Internet Service Provider and some simple software provided by the school.

Of course, as technology continues to evolve and improve, its application in the education world will continue to develop as well, and distance learning will likely become even more user-friendly in the coming months and years.


What are the most important factors potential students should consider in selecting a distance learning program?
While the benefits of convenience and flexibility are unsurpassable, distance learning does require a high level of discipline. A potential student should thoroughly investigate the course format to be sure the time commitment, work volume and general program demands will realistically fit into an existing schedule.

In addition, students should review the school’s accreditation to ensure quality standards have been applied and earned credits will transfer to other reputable schools. Different types of accrediting bodies accredit different types of schools, but regional accreditation is the most common when it comes to large public or private universities.


How long does it take to earn a degree through a distance learning program?
The time commitment varies greatly, depending on factors such as the school, the number of credits required and the specific degree program or content area. However, enrollment counselors can help potential students evaluate previously earned transfer credits to determine what additional coursework will be required to earn a degree, and determine how long it will take to complete those requirements. It is worth noting, though, that the fastest option is not always the best option. A quality education that fits an individual’s lifestyle and long-term career goals will always be the best choice.


ELDEN MONDAY is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults, offering both on campus and online programs. Reach Monday at Elden.monday@phoenix.edu or by phone at (610) 989-0880, x1131.