The first and most critical consideration for distance learning is to do a self-assessment of your educational goals.
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Are you just beginning your education or are you adding on to your present degree?
- Are you seeking an advanced degree?
- Are you just trying a course or two to see if you can do distance learning with the idea that you might continue toward a degree?
The next part of your self-assessment should include your strengths and weaknesses. Distance learning is much different from attending on campus college classes. You must be a self-starter.
- Do I have the discipline to set my own time and focus on my course work without letting other distractions crowd out my time?
- How computer literate am I?
- How social am I on the Internet?
- Do I use emails, chat rooms and discussion groups because this is how I will interact with other class members and my teacher?
The next step is to search for an accredited, reputable school. You don’t want to spend years on a degree only to find that employers consider it worthless. One place to start is with the SOCCOAST website. It was set up for military returnees but it offers good information for anyone interested in distance learning. This is a consortium of colleges and universities that have agreed on specific guidelines for degree programs. Here are two of the important points. They will evaluate you after completion of six hours of course work (two courses) and set out a specific degree program for you to follow. They will accept transfer credits without reevaluation. The site lists participating two year and four-year colleges. You can match this list with any list you may have for distance learning.
If you are seeking a degree, the next step is to be specific about your major course of study. Your major will determine how many core credits you will take in your major field. Often students fail to check their major courses carefully and end up taking unnecessary and costly courses. On this same topic you should research the course requirements for any state or federal licenses you are seeking. For example, if you’re looking to become a CPA, you should check those requirements for your state and national certification. The course requirements may vary from your degree program courses. Be sure to take these courses as electives.
There are several different kinds of distance learning. Some are print based and you do most of the work via email. Others offer audio and still others offer audio and video. Here you would interact via teleconference, one-way video and two-way audio/video tapes. When choosing a college, be sure to find out answers to which mode of learning you will receive.
Another set of questions would include the degree of flexibility for completing courses. Some set deadlines for completion as the normal 16- week time span. Others give you several months, even up to two years to finish. Some give you unlimited time.
Finally, find out the fee schedule, including special charges for registering. Some colleges require that you spend some time on campus to compete your degree. Find out if you will have any such requirements and what that percentage that will be.
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