How to Assess the Credibility of Distance Learning Programs

Get your degree while keeping your full-time job! Get credit for life experience! Take classes at your convenience!

All of these are claims made by distance learning programs, and they are all true – to a point. But they don’t tell the whole story.

I began my own odyssey into distance learning before the days of University of Phoenix, and long before any of the local colleges and universities began offering online or distance education courses. Times have changed since then, and so many more options are available.

Back in 1990, I found a handful of programs that met my needs, and applied to a few of them. Unfortunately, following the advice of someone I thought was reliable, I chose the wrong school.

Yes, I received my Master’s Degree. I worked on it for about 18 months, submitted numerous papers, and fulfilled all the requirements. I received some credit for my work experience, which required reams of documentation to prove that I had the skills and knowledge I claimed.

But I didn’t look into the program closely enough because, a few years after I graduated, they lost their accreditation. My degree was technically still valid, but I had a hard time convincing potential employers of that. Many of them dismissed my degree entirely because some of my classes were taken via mail and phone.

These days, it’s much easier to research potential schools, and there are many more programs available. Plus, online and distance education classes are being offered by top colleges and universities, and can often be supplemented with more traditional courses.

At the moment, I am taking a Real Estate course online. It’s identical to the one being offered by the same school not far from my home, but I can fit my class time to my odd work schedule. By the time I am done, I will be able to take the same exam that everyone else in the state has to take to become licensed as a real estate agent. And no one will question the validity of my credentials just because I took my courses online.

My advice: do your research. Start with colleges and universities that already have a good reputation. That was where I made my first mistake because the university I chose offered ONLY distance education. Now you can choose courses from many major universities, as well as community colleges, professional boards, and others.

Second, make sure the program you’re taking will meet your needs. If you simply need continuing education credits, make sure the course you take is recognized by the requisite board or association.

Third, find a way to ensure that you will stay motivated and do the work. This can actually be the hardest part, but a good distance learning program will offer help or suggestions for completing the material.

Times have indeed changed.