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Distance Learning
Based on http://educationusa.state.gov, Peterson's Guide to Distance Learning Programs, and other Internet sources.

Distance education is an increasingly popular way to study for everything from a short professional course to a doctoral degree in the United States. Under the distance education model, students do not attend classes in a classroom on a campus; instead, classes are delivered "from a distance" through the use of technologies such as the Internet, satellite television and video conferencing. This means that international students can study for a U.S. degree without leaving their home countries, though some programs do require trips to the U.S. for short periods of face-to-face contact and study on campus.

Types of Distance Learning Delivery:
  • Print-based courses (correspondence courses) use print materials as the medium of instruction. Students receive materials by mail at the start of the course and return completed assignments by mail. Sometimes fax machine speed up the delivery of assignments, and the telephone can be used if communication between instructor and student is necessary.
  • Audio-based courses may involve two-way communication, as in audio or phone conferencing; or they may involve one-way communication, including radio broadcast and pre-recorded audiotapes sent to students. Audio technologies may be used to supplement the main technology used in the course. For example, in an Internet-based distance education course, students and professors may call one another periodically.
  • Video-based technologies include two way interactive video conferencing, one-way video with two-way audio, one-way live video, and one-way prerecorded video tapes provided to students. Of these, two-way interactive video and pre-recorded videotapes are the most popular.
  • Internet-based courses (also called online or e-learning) are offered over the Internet. Some online courses use synchronous, real time instruction based primarily on interactive computer conferencing or chat rooms. However, most Internet-based courses are asynchronous instruction, making use of online course management system, Web sites, e-mail, electronic mailing lists, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and messaging programs. Asynchronous courses are usually more convinient for international students because of time differences that make it difficult to be at a computer at the exact time as an instructor and other students. Obviously, students must have a computer with the appropriate software and Internet in order to take an Internet-based course.
Factors to consider when selecting a distance leraning program:
  • Accreditation (be very careful that the university is more over accredited by a recognized agency. In the U.S., the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is the agency that recognizes and works with legitimate accreditors. To avoid deceit from impressive sounding but unrecognized agencies, check the website of CHEA (http://www.chea.org) that lists the names of recognized accreditors in the U.S.
  • Techology (find out what technical support is offered for the students)
  • Program history (look at the curriculum; is the syllabus up-to-date; what percentage of students who enroll actually complete the degree)
  • Faculty (who teaches the courses? what is their experience and training? are they well-regarded in their field, etc.)
  • Cost (the cost of a reputable distance degree program is generally comparable to or a bit more expensive than it's on campus counterpart (for out-of-state students a graduate degree could cost close to $30,000).
  • Class Size (a small class size is about 20 students)
  • Student Services (are there academic and career mentoring services for DL students? does the university provide free access to its library resources?)
Admissions requirements to enter DL programs:
One misconception people sometimes have about DL is that because the programs use nontraditional methods of instruction they also use nontraditional admissions requirements. This is not true. Students who apply to distance-learning programs face the same admissions requirements (a certain GPA minimum, standardized tests, a previous degree, etc.) that applicants to other programs have.

Common fields of study taught by distance education:
The five most common fields of study taught by distance include social sciences, business, education, computer science and health.

Programs offered:
Distance learning offers the following five types of programs:
  • Undergraduate degrees (associate, bachelor's)
  • Graduate degree (master's, doctoral)
  • Certificate (trains for new a career or gives a foundation in a new subject)
  • Professional Certificate (many are designed with the help of professional associations or licensing boards to prepare students for professional certification or licensure)
  • Certificate programs in academic subjects at undergraduate and graduate levels (if a student later enrolls in an undergraduate degree program, he/she might be able to apply the credits earned in a certificate program)
Program's length:
A certificate program could be from several days to one or two years. Degree programs must meet the requirements of on campus degrees in terms of hours or credits. For undergraduates it usually takes around 128 hours to completing the degree. A graduate degree is determined in credits, and most universities require 30- 60 credits. You should find out if you must complete the courses by a strict deadline (for example, exactly in two years) or if it possible to have more time for distance students. Many programs allow a more flexible timeline for distance degrees (for example, 3-4 years instead of 2 years).

Popular DL web sites:
These are some of the hundreds of interesting web sites devoted to DL.

http://educationusa.state.gov/study/admissions/distance.htm
EducationUSA provides information on distance learning programs and offers strategies on how to choose a good program.

http://www.detc.org/about.html
The site of the Distance Education and Training Council, a non-profit educational association located in Washington, D.C. The association also sponsors a nationally-recognized accrediting agency called the "Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council."

http://www.petersons.com/dlearn
Peterson's page on distance learning. You can search for accredited distance learning courses by school name, degree, or subject.

http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/elearning/directory/gradonline.htm
U.S. News lists 263 online graduate degree programs in five disciplines. All programs have the stamp of approval of their regional accrediting boards, which set rigorous standards for higher education and qualify them for federal aid programs. Many have also obtained accreditation from their professional association.

http://distancelearn.excelsior.edu
Search DistanceLearn® to find distance learning opportunities at regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States and government approved universities abroad.

http://www.geteducated.com
Adult Education and Distance Learner's Resource Center. Besides providing informational articles and a free electronic newsletter on distance education topics, it has a directory of online colleges and virtual universities. It has free guidebooks to over 310 accredited online degrees in education, business and technology related areas.

http://www.dlcoursefinder.com
The International Distance Learning Course Finder is the world's largest online directory of e-learning courses from 131 countries. It has information on over 55,000 distance learning courses and programs offered from a multitude of universities, colleges and companies.

http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/tl
Provides information on courses delivered via the Internet. Has a search feature to help locate programs.

http://www.degree.net
All about distance education with useful links.

http://www.caso.com
A comprehensive and up-to-date listing of online courses.
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