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Most Frequently Asked Questions about Distance Learning.
Based on, 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, and numerous institutions offer graduate degree programs using distance education teaching methods. 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, video conferencing, and other means of electronic delivery. For international students this means that they can study for an U.S. degree without leaving their home country, though they may have to go to the U.S. for short periods of face-to-face contact and study on the campus.

How is distance learning courses categorized according to primary technologies they use to deliver instructions?

A wide range of technological options fall into four major categories:
Print - based courses (correspondence courses) use print materials as the medium of instructions. 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 prerecorded 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 prerecorded 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 of Internet-based courses are asynchronous instruction, making use of online course management system, Web sites, e-mail, electronic mailing lists, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and massaging programs. Obviously, students must have a computer with the appropriate software and Internet in order to take an Internet-based course.

What are admission requirements to enter DL programs?

One misconception people sometimes have about DL is that because these programs use nontraditional methods of instructions they also use nontraditional admission requirements. It is not the case. Students who apply to distance -learning programs face the same number of admission requirements (a certain GPA minimum, admission tests (TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc), previous degree, etc.) that applicants of other programs have.

What are the most common fields of study taught by distance education?

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

I have found the DL program using Yahoo search. Does the fact of its existing in Internet can garantee its quality?

Absolutely Not. Much of the information on the Internet is not filtered or fact-checked. Web sites are not checked with any scrutiny to determine if the site is operating from a scam or legitimate position. Anyone can create a Web site and submit their URL to a master Web directory or engine for indexing. To complicate matters the .edu (education) domain extension on Web and e-mail addresses is not regulated at present either. Do not be misled into thinking that a Web site or e-mail message that has .edu at the end of it MUST be a real educational institution! For these reasons, you cannot assume that because a university has a Web page listed at a popular online site, like Yahoo! or AltaVista, that this fact alone "legitimizes" the college and what it has to offer. You must carefully scrutinize all information that is available on the Internet in order to protect yourself from fraud or from investing in an education that may not meet your personal needs.

What are the most popular DL web sites?

There are hundreds of interesting web sites devoted to DL. Below you will find only some of the many related to that issue.
Peterson's page on distance learning. You will be able to search for accredited distance learning courses by school name, degree, or subject
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.
Search DistanceLearn® to find distance learning opportunities at regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States and government approved universities abroad. 176 colleges and universities are represented in the database. More than 18,000 distance learning college courses are listed.
Adult Education and Distance Learner's Resource Center. Besides providing informational articles and a free electronic newsletter on distance education topics, one can access a directory of on-line colleges and virtual universities. It has free guidebooks to over 310 accredited online degrees in education, business and tech related areas.
The International Distance Learning Course Finder is the world's largest online directory of e-learning courses from 130 countries. It has information on over 55,000 distance learning courses and programs offered from a multitude of universities, colleges and companies.
Provides information on courses delivered via the Internet. Has a search feature to help locate programs.
All about distance education with useful links.
A comprehensive and up-to-date listing of on-line courses helps you research online degrees, certificates and courses from online colleges, universities and schools. It also provides advice for new online learners and resources about online learning
The world's directory of on-line courses, online learning and online education
Ed-X.Com is a search engine and web resource for distance learning and online education with comprehensive information on over 20,000 online courses and degree programs from 700 online colleges worldwide. Use the Ed-X online education index below to locate online college courses or distance learning certificate and degree programs.
It has a list of alphabetically categorized online Colleges and Universities.
The Distance Learning Exchange is an Internet directory of distance learning activities. It provides information about a variety of distance learning activities such as web quests, satellite teleconferences, electronic field trips, videoconferencing courses and e-mail exchanges.
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."

Do Most schools offer DL accredited programs?

To defend yourself from the DL programs that take students money but provide no education you should check the accreditation of the programs.

Regional Accreditation. Most reputable universities' DL programs are accredited by one of the Six Regional Boards that accredit universities: MSA - Middle State Association of Colleges & Schools, NASC - Northwest Association of Schools & Colleges, NCA - North Central Association of Colleges & Schools, NEASC - New England Association of Schools & Colleges, SACS - Southern Association of Colleges & Schools, WASC - Western Association of Schools & Colleges.
To have a degree from a regionally accredited university means that your learning is certified by a recognized third party. Regionally accredited universities are the bodies that are widely recognized as being these kinds of third party certifies. Regionally accredited universities recognize each other's degrees and programs as acceptable. If you, for example, have a bachelor's degree from the university accredited by WASC, the university accredited by NCA recognizes it for entering its graduate program. On the other hand, a regionally accredited college or university will rarely accept a bachelor's degree earned at a college that is not regionally accredited.

Accreditation by the Distance Education & Training Council. The Distance Education & Training Council (DETC), formerly National Home Study Council, is the oldest national non-government agency in the US dedicated specially to accrediting programs that are delivered through distance means. While many of the schools it accredits are vocational, such as truck driving, small engine repair etc, the Council is empowered to accredit academic schools offering Associate's, Bachelor's, and Master's degrees. It can't accredit schools offering Doctorate degrees.
The Council has very good reputation for its programs but the degrees and programs earned at DETC schools are not universally accepted by regionally accredited universities.

Programmatic Accreditation. In addition to accreditation, which is granted to an institution as a whole- like regional and DETC designations-special programmatic accrediting agencies (professional groups) can accredit or approve only one specific program or department within a college or university. For example, professional programs could be accredited by the American Psychological Association, by the Accrediting Board for Engineering & Technology or by the National League for Nursing. Employers in certain professional fields could ask for this kind of accreditation.

Unrecognized Accreditors. You should be aware that universities or colleges that have no legitimate accreditation could use an impressive name of accreditors that in fact means nothing (like "accredited worldwide" or "nationally accredited"). Names like "Accrediting Commission for Specialized Colleges", "Alternative Institution Accrediting Association", Council for the Accreditation of Correspondence Colleges" are used to give an accreditation to any schools that pay, but most of these schools are phony.
You need to be very careful that the university is not only accredited, but also accredited by a recognized agency. In the US, 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 ( that lists the names of recognized accreditors in the US. If an accreditor is not recognized by CHEA, it's not going to be recognized by the higher education community in general.

Do most schools give degrees (BA, BS, MA or MS) or just a certificate of completion for DL program?

Distance learning can offer professional certification as well as awarding of degrees. For teachers, managers, accountants, nurses, engineers, and computer specialists, DL is a good opportunity to meet professional certification requirements. Distance learning courses are also popular in the vocational fields.

There is also the opportunity for students to earn degrees at the associate, baccalaureate, and graduate level. This opportunity has grown over the last few years.

Several reference books outline both possibilities for students. For detailed information about certificate and degree programs, see "Guide to Distance Learning Programs. Peterson's 2000"(calt0026), "How to Get a College Degree Via the Internet."1998, "The Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools"1999 (calt0006), "College Degree by Mail" 1997(calt0028), and "The Electronic University"1993 (calt0012) at our center.

Is the quality of the DL programs generally good?

The DL program market is growing very quickly. There are a lot of programs that are too young and not well organized. To find a good program, a student should take into consideration several factors:
• Accreditation
• Program History
• How many students have graduated?
• How many students are currently enrolled?
• Who teaches the courses? (What is their experience and training?)
• Are the credit hours and number of courses really enough for getting a degree?
• Cost

The cost of a reputable distance degree program is generally comparable to or a bit more expensive than its on to-campus counterpart (for out-of-state students the graduate degree by DL could cost close to $20,000 - $30,000). If the price looks too good to be true, it's better to be suspicious about this program. Regarding method of payment (credit card, money order or other opportunities) you'd better ask the program directly.

Student Services:
• Are there academic and career mentoring services for DL students?
• Does university provide free access to its library resources?

Generally, how long does it take to complete a distance education program?

It really depends on the program. The certificate program could be from several days to one or two years. The degree programs should meet the requirements of getting the degree in terms of hours or credits. For undergraduates it usually takes around 128 hours for completing the degree. A graduate degree is determined in terms of credits. For receiving the graduate degree the universities or colleges require 30- 60 credits. You should ask the program if it is necessary to complete the courses by the strict deadline (for example, exactly in two years) or is it possible to have more time for distance students. A lot of programs give a more flexible timeline for receiving the degree (for example, 3-4 years instead of 2 years).

What is the value of DL diploma? Is it difficult to find a job with this type of diploma/certificate? Do employers recognize them as quality education?

Most of the students of DL programs are people of middle age (average-40 years) who could not leave their work to go back to school for professional development. DL programs are a good option for those people who clearly understand the necessity of receiving the professional certificate or degree for their career but have no time or possibility to attend on-campus study. Often an employer will pay for their employee's study. In most cases, the employer recognizes the DL degree or certificate received in an accredited program with a good reputation as a sign of professional growth.

What are the best DL programs in best universities?

The list of universities ranked in the top ten by their fields that offer DL programs:
Engineering: Stanford University
Library Sciences: Indiana University
Computer and Information Sciences: Carnegie Mellon University; The University of Texas at Austin
MBA: Duke University, Fuqua School of Business; University of California, Los Angeles
Economics: University of California, Los Angeles
Education/Education Administration: University of California, Los Angeles
Health Professions and related sciences: John Hopkins University
Nursing: Pennsylvania State University

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