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Higher Ed Online: A Waste of Time?

 
Marc Peabody
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What's your impression of online courses from accredited universities?

I can't make up my mind whether online courses would have much worth, but I'm very interested in pursuing a Masters degree (in Business Administration, Project Management, or something along those lines). The convenience of not having to drive off to school all the time is very tempting.

Would anyone happen to have positive/negative experiences from online classes to share?
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Marc,
I got my Master's in Computer Information Technology online from Regis University. The way they do things, the online courses are the same as the land based courses. Same syllabus, reading, projects, discussions. Instead of a lecture, there were powerpoint slides to get the professor's/school's take on things. We participated in discussions through an asynchronous forum. And as you know from JavaRanch, it is perfectly possible to have heated discussions in a forum without actually meeting the people. We also did group projects in most of my courses. People interacted more online than they did in the combined undergraduate/graduate courses I took in college.

There are basically three models of online courses:
1) Classroom type model - proctored exams (you find someone to sign that you took the exam under test like conditions with a time limit)
2) Essay based - University of Phoenix is most famous for having entirely essay based courses.
3) Mix of online open book exams (timed, like a mock exam interface), "take home" (untimed) open book exams and projects. Regis University takes this approach. I liked this as it matches my learning preference of using references. I feel this prepares me well for actually using what I learn because I focus more on understanding than memorizing.
It's important to know which one you are getting into and make sure it matches your learning style. There's also the correspondence course model where you don't interact with other students. That's much less popular today as it doesn't take advantage of the internet.

There are also three models of "lecture":
1) Classroom based recorded - They tape record the classroom lecture and you watch it online.
2) Classroom based online - A live webcast of the actual lecture where you can ask questions and participate realtime.
3) Reading based - powerpoint/word/html digest from professor/school highlighting/outlining important points.
Of course all of these supplement textbook reading. And again there is the correspondence course option where you just read everything on your own. Again, it's important to make sure the teaching style matches your learning style.

I was very happy with my experience. The only thing I feel I missed out on was practice speaking in front of people during my thesis presentation. But I speak in front of people at work, so this wasn't a big deal.

> I can't make up my mind whether online courses would have much worth
Any particular reasons or things you are unsure of? I can expand on those parts of my experience.

[edited because I missed one point]
[ November 30, 2006: Message edited by: Jeanne Boyarsky ]
 
Marcus Green
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In the mid 1990's I did a 2 year post graduate diploma in IT via distance learning at an Australian University. Out of the 31 people who started the course 3 finished. My conclusion from this was that if you are going to do a distance course you should do it with an organisation that does only distance. Otherwise you can get in the situation where I phoned the tutor and he suggested I "pop around to his office". It was only the hours airplane flight that stopped me popping around. The UK Open University has a very good reputation for distance education and the qualifications are highgly regarded. Many people consider that if you can learn via distance methods you are demonstrating even higher motivation than a person who studies face to face.

Marcus
 
Marc Peabody
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Originally posted by Jeanne Boyarsky:

> I can't make up my mind whether online courses would have much worth
Any particular reasons or things you are unsure of? I can expand on those parts of my experience.

I want a class setting where I can learn at least as much through my interaction with other students as I do from the rest of the class structure. Forum threads would do the trick, but then my concern is the quality of my classmates.

My fear is that I'd be surrounded by folks that don't really care about learning anything - you know, folks that are going to do the absolute minimum just to get the degree because they think it's a ticket to a salary increase. I think many such people would see the convenience of online classes as their brain's "path of least resistance".

On the other hand, I have a strong belief that learning is fun and contagious. Once the forums get a little heated, even the laziest boob will contribute with passion.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Originally posted by Marcus Green:
My conclusion from this was that if you are going to do a distance course you should do it with an organisation that does only distance. Otherwise you can get in the situation where I phoned the tutor and he suggested I "pop around to his office".

Or an organization that does distance well. The professors for online courses at Regis are split between onsite faculty and professionals all over the country. For example, my written communication class was taught by a lawyer in upstate New York. (The university was in Colorado.)
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Originally posted by Marc Peabody:
I want a class setting where I can learn at least as much through my interaction with other students as I do from the rest of the class structure. Forum threads would do the trick, but then my concern is the quality of my classmates.

Overall, this is only a problem in the first class. Online learning takes more discipline than going to class. So most of the poor quality/disinterested students drop out or decide not to take the online program in the first place. I think choosing a program that targets adults/professionals helps with the quality of what the other students bring to the class as well. Regis was good about us sharing our experiences. I've heard good things about University of Phoenix for this as well. Regis has a minimum 2 years working requirement and Phoenix has an age limit.

My fear is that I'd be surrounded by folks that don't really care about learning anything - you know, folks that are going to do the absolute minimum just to get the degree because they think it's a ticket to a salary increase. I think many such people would see the convenience of online classes as their brain's "path of least resistance".[/QB]

My advice on this is to talk/e-mail someone who went to the schools you are considering. Every school is going to be different for this. Incidentally, how is this better in a physical class. In college, I took several classes that were combined undergraduate/graduate courses. There were a few people who were really interested and most were there to get the grade. I found people participated more online. Probably through a combination of self selection and that it's easier for a shy student to raise points through a computer.

On the other hand, I have a strong belief that learning is fun and contagious. Once the forums get a little heated, even the laziest boob will contribute with passion.[/QB]

A good facilitators (Regis called the professors facilitators) drums this up nicely!

From telling people I went to grad school online, the biggest counter-arguments I heard were:
- online schools are scams (this has gotten better in the last few years - less misconceptions as the bigger popular schools got in on this market)
- studying online sounds hard
- they learn better with a lecturer
- they wouldn't find the time
 
Cameron Wallace McKenzie
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I did quite a few courses through Athabasca University

Athabasca University in Canada

I was impressed by how thorough and challenging the courses were. It was well worth the money.

Cheers!

-Cameron McKenzie
 
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