Navigate the World of Distance Learning

Dispelling Common Myths About Online Education

woman learning about online distance programs

Distance learning myths are demystified with some straightforward answers about getting online degrees—as well as analyzing the current online degree trends and getting some insider tips. Are online programs harder than campus programs? Do distance learning online schools give you credit towards work experience?

Most online courses are accessible 24/7, so you can study anytime. Study from work, on the road or in your kitchen wearing your pajamas. Some schools may require students to spend a few days on campus each year, but most online degree programs have no residency requirement.

Common Myths About Online Degrees

  • Online programs are harder than on campus programs: Online programs are not more difficult than campus programs because they traditionally follow the same curriculum regardless of delivery format. In many ways, taking courses online can be easier because you set your study schedule. Also, students who take courses online usually have the advantage of receiving instructors' lectures in written form.
  • Online programs are more expensive: The price of an online education varies widely. Students should expect to pay anywhere from a little less than $100 to more than $400 per credit, and additional registration or enrollment fees may also apply. Online programs also eliminate the higher out-of-state tuition; you don’t have to pay high gas prices driving to and from a campus; and you won’t have to pay parking fees or worry about paying expensive parking tickets.
  • Online schools don’t offer scholarships or financial aid: Students enrolled in distance learning programs are often eligible for the same types of scholarships and financial aid as students enrolled in traditional programs. But be sure to check whether your distance learning MBA college has received accreditation from an agency that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recognizes, because it may also qualify for federal financial aid programs. Read more about paying for an online college education.
  • Online colleges don’t give credit for work experience: Students seeking to receive credit for work experience generally have one or two options, depending on the school you plan to attend. Many schools allow students to complete proficiency exams in lieu of course work in areas in which they have work experience or knowledge gained though independent study. Programs that focus on this scenario include:
    • College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
    • Proficiency Examination Program (PEP)
    • Officially documented portfolio listing experiences for which college credit may be awarded
    • Working closely with your academic advisor

The Basics of Distance Learning Online

Admissions for online classes are no different from on-campus classes.

Students enrolling in online programs typically have to go through the exact same admissions process as those students enrolling in traditional campus programs. Applications, fees and, depending on the program, standard college admissions test scores may be required. For more information on the enrollment procedures for distance learning programs, you will need to request free information from each online school you are interested in.

Online course curriculum is no different from on-campus classes

Online course content is generally the same as traditional course work. Assignments are emailed to the instructor, usually on designated due dates. For many online classes, written course work takes the place of traditional examinations. When this is not the case, examinations may be offered online, or they may be proctored; many online schools provide students with listings of suitable locations in their area where tests may be taken.

Online class start dates vary

If the online degree program you're enrolled in is self-paced, you'll probably be able to start any time. However, many online degree programs are structured like traditional programs in that groups of students are scheduled to take a class and/or go through a degree program at the same time. When this is the case, there is generally a designated start date.

Computer and technical requirements

Students planning on enrolling in online classes should expect to have, at minimum, regular access to a computer with an Internet connection and an email account.

You should check with the school where you are planning to enroll to find out what the specific requirements might be. Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • What type of browser will I need?
  • How fast should my modem or Internet connection be?
  • Do I need to have Microsoft Office software?

If you have a computer, access to the Internet and an email account, chances are you'll be able to take a course online. Many schools that offer online courses have a simple test page that allows you to determine whether or not you have the right equipment to take an online course. If this isn't the case, you can always call or email the school to find out what equipment you'll need in order to get started.

Accelerated Pace vs Traditional Schedules

While some online classes or degree programs allow students to complete course work at their own pace, many traditional universities require online students to maintain the same quarter or semester schedule as on-campus students. Online classes are structured around a series of assignments and examinations, much like traditional courses. While some classes and degrees may be completed at an accelerated pace, classes are usually structured in such a way that they require a minimum of six to eight weeks to complete.

The Virtual Classroom and You

Students who take courses online usually do not meet face-to-face with instructors and classmates; however, communication via email or online discussions often proves to be just as rewarding.

Online classes are generally hosted on a secure website. The instructor posts lecture materials and assignments to this site, and there is usually a bulletin board or other discussion forum where students may post comments and questions. The instructor may occasionally designate a specific log-in time for an online chat session, but otherwise you may log in and work at any time. Components of a virtual classroom include corresponding by various means:

  • Email
  • Instant Messaging (IM)
  • Streaming Video
  • Video Conferencing

After enrolling, you will receive detailed instructions on how to set up your computer prior to the classes starting. Online schools also have technical support for you to contact and get help as necessary to enhance your online learning experience.

Hand in your assignments via email

Using email lets you correspond with classmates, instructors, teaching assistants or groups within a course and is an extremely common practice for turning in homework assignments in Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

Participate in colloquiums

A colloquium is a prearranged meeting or seminar usually led by a different lecturer on a different topic at each meeting. In many cases, these are used to enhance a virtual classroom experience and can either be offered through video conferencing, video streaming or on a designated campus site.

Engage in Blackboard conversations

A blackboard conversation includes responses, which are the back and forth messages logged to a thread or topic of the thread. Think of this as if you were in a traditional classroom where everyone asks questions. With a thread or blog conversation, the questions and answers about a certain subject are simply typed out for you to read online when time permits.

Expect to read a lot and buy textbooks

Depending on the online courses you take, you will still be required to purchase textbooks and will still have reading assignments. Also, as there is a lot more information online, today’s virtual students may be referred to websites for supplemental information. It is the discussion of this material that takes place online as opposed to in a traditional classroom.

Work with your advisor and work with classmates

Distance learning requires that you communicate well with your teachers and your classmates. It's essential that online students participate in class. Ask questions and talk to your teacher and academic advisor if you're experiencing problems. Your academic advisor will help you plan your curriculum and act as a guide for any issues that may come up. However, if you're only enrolling in one or two online courses, you probably won't work with an advisor.