How to Assess the Credibility of Distance Learning Programs

The decision to pursue distance learning opportunities should not be entered into lightly. Selecting a program and a school that is reputable and will provide credibility to your resume is of the utmost importance.

Since education is not just a short-term financial decision, selecting a credible school can mean the difference between working in a job or a career. Over the long term this can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the career path you are studying to enter.

To ensure you find a program that not only peaks your interest, supports your chosen career path, and provides you entrance into the workforce in the career of your choosing you will need to be diligent. Regardless of whether or not you are currently employed it is important to follow these steps:

First, determine which field you wish to study. There are programs that result in the granting of certificates of completion, diplomas, bachelors degrees, masters degrees (most common MBA), and doctoral degrees.

Second, you will want to determine how much time you have to commit to the program. You will need to research the entrance requirements of schools offering distance learning programs. It is very important that you find out what the time commitment will be, the related fees, and whether or not you will need to travel to the location for seminars. Understanding the technology requirements is also imperative: what computer programs do you need, did you need to teleconference or video conference, or do you need specialized equipment?

Third, begin to do research on the internet to find out what schools offer the program you would like to take. Compile a list of at least ten schools. You will want to compare: the length of the program, any claims regarding former students successes (e.g.: 95% of our graduates are working in their chosen field), and the cost of the program. From this comparison you should be able to determine the top schools for meeting your education goals.

Fourth, take the names of the school and contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) that is located in your area as well as the BBB from where the school operates. You are looking for positive and/or negative reports on the school itself as well as its programs.

Fifth, call a minimum of three employers for whom you wish to work once your schooling is complete. Ask them to indicate which schools and programs their company recognizes. Ensure you understand the minimum requirements for “approved programs” or “accredited” schools. There might be a common program or set of programs that the employers you speak with recognize. If this is the case, the likelihood of the distance education program being credible is high.

Finally, contact a minimum of three individuals who are currently performing the role for which you wish to train. The question is how do you get the contacts? There are several excellent sources of information: professional associations, societies, unions, government agencies, Chambers of Commerce, and your local library to name a few.

When you speak with the individuals in the role ask them if they can tell you about how they took their training. Try to find out if they used distance learning or if anyone they know has enrolled in or successfully completed the distance learning you wish to complete. If the individuals did use distance learning programs find out what they liked about the program, what were the challenges, and what were the rewards. It is important to address the question of how readily the program was recognized by their existing employer or by new employers?