Whatever you want to label “learning at home” and however you want to define the latest buzzwords for non-traditional education, you can find a program and method that fits your needs. Right now over 1.2 million people in the US participate in some form of distance learning, with an expected expansion to 2.3 million in just a few years.

As you look at this viable and rapidly expanding form of education and training, there are a few key things you need to consider and some decisions you need to make in order to create the environment that best suits your needs. You need to know the what, why, benefits and how of the various forms of distance learning.

Distance learning (correspondence courses) began in Europe in the 1800s and has evolved into a multifaceted term that serves many purposes. Some of the forms of distance learning are: correspondence courses, online education, internet-based education, electronic education, e-education, electronic learning, and e-learning. The difference between these terms will depend on how the institution defines and labels the programs it offers. To simplify the whole concept, let’s say that these terms represent ways of learning away from a “bricks and mortar” framework. Some online and/or distance learning programs may or may not be linked to a university or college. There are many programs that are independent and unaffiliated with any institution.

Distance learning offers a variety of paths to personal goals that include: GEDs, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, graduate certificates, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, non-credit training, and others. Whether a person is looking for a degree, keeping professional skills current, or pursuing skills for an area of ​​interest or hobby, there’s a program or offering that should work.

Why are so many people turning to distance learning? What are its advantages? On a personal level, look to pros like: maintaining privacy; offers convenience; allows for a flexible schedule; allows you to reconcile work and family obligations; work at your own pace, go slow, or accelerate learning; it can be less expensive; great for homebound people; no unnecessary trips; no formal attendance at lectures; and can “learn as you earn”. These are some of the many things that are causing a number of people to take a completely different approach to gaining knowledge/skills and/or earning a degree.

Those who oppose a distance learning alternative often point to the lack of socialization that is part of a traditional type of education. However, not everyone is looking for the classroom activities, college events/parties, and interactions that are part of a school campus. Many of the classroom activities such as discussion and support can be done online. The other things an online education will strengthen are: reading – ebooks, up to date

references, current research; listening – through audio lessons or clips; transparent illustrations and graphic demonstrations; doing – homework, quizzes, exams, research papers; and talk/communicate – through email, chat and electronic discussions. A distance learning program can be more than just reading and writing.

What are the requirements to join a distance learning program? Many programs require a minimum of a GED or admissions test. Typically, the application process will include: an application; transcripts; test scores; a theme; and letters of recommendation. The less formal the program, the less formal the requirements. There is a wide variety of answers to these questions. However, what is needed for an online program is the right computer equipment with (high speed) internet connection, word processing skills; e-mail; and media player. The program you choose will provide more specific details for equipment and software recommendations.

In choosing a program there are a few questions to ask as you do your research and make your selection. Ask for the following: help/support is offered; instructor qualifications; number of years the institution has provided services; is an accredited program; resume details; and multimedia elements of the program. By the way, accreditation is voluntary as there is no officially sanctioned entity. However, most schools have considered the six regional accrediting agencies to be legitimate agencies. Ask if it is regionally accredited.

The last thing you need to think about is your motivation and work ethic. If you are a good reader (good reading comprehension skills) who doesn’t procrastinate and can avoid distractions, you will be a good candidate for an alternative approach to education. In this age of global education and the need for current knowledge and skills, this is a fast delivery system that will instantly bring all technological advancement right into your living room. It works for over a million people and it can work for you.

Visit our Distance Learning Resource Center at: http://sbmag.org/distancelearning.html

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