A few short years ago, when a handful of colleges (some a little suspect) began offering online courses, the whole idea was considered offbeat. Now many mainstream colleges and universities around the U.S. and throughout the world are offering courses online, some leading to a bachelor's or even a master's degree.
Both private and state-run colleges are offering courses through the Internet culminating in degrees ranging from Information Technology to Accounting, Psychology, and Business Management. In addition, private, for-profit businesses offer courses in specialized subjects. Even Donald Trump has gotten into the game; in the summer of 2005 he announced the creation of Trump University, teaching online courses including "How to Buy a House" and various real estate development and management courses, led by instructors with pretty substantial credentials, including a business professor from Dartmouth College.
Why Study Online?
With the constantly shifting work scene, it's becoming essential that workers keep up to date on the demands of their profession, and even expand their knowledge base as a hedge against outsourcing and all the other threats to job security. Online courses are an easy way to keep abreast of information from current computer software and hardware to the latest business practices.
It's impractical for most fulltime workers to take time off from work to attend college, and attending evening classes can really cut into valuable family time. On the contrary, logging onto the Internet in your own living room, at a time chosen by you, can allow you to fit valuable learning into a hectic schedule with minimal disruption. You also have unlimited access to the educational institution of your choice without having to pick up and move - you can live in rural New England and access schools in California, Arizona, or wherever you want.
Studying online is also a good way to prepare for a change in careers; training that you might not be able to find locally is available for you on the Internet. Of course, if you want to prepare for a new career without necessarily informing your boss, it's a lot easier to keep that fact a secret than if you're caught hanging out at the local college three evenings a week.
How to Pick an Online College
Once you've decided on a course of study, there are a few ways to decide which online college or university to choose. One place to start is the university system in your own state; although dealing with your own university doesn't guarantee good online courses, the fact that it is an established, accredited institution suggests that it applies strict standards to its online courses.
Dealing with a nearby college for your online education needs has an additional benefit; you can actually meet with college officials if you want, and do some research on other students in the area who've taken the courses, with the goal of gauging the quality of the course and the student's educational experience. While this can be done online, it's not as easy.
If you want to go farther afield for your online education, you can do a Google search to find colleges and universities in other locations offering courses over the Internet. One website which lists both accredited colleges and universities and training schools is elearners.com. The site offers a wealth of information about a lot of good online programs, but is not comprehensive; for instance, the state of New Hampshire has a university system and other colleges which offer online courses, none of which are listed.
A final thought - make sure that before you sign up for an online course, you know how it operates. Does the course you want take place at certain times of the day, or is it constructed so that you can log in any time of the day or night? A regularly scheduled online course may offer the additional advantage of real time interaction with a professor and other students, but may not fit in with your schedule. So check this before you sign on.
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for local and regional newspapers and for a number of Internet websites, including Tips and Topics. She expresses her opinions periodically on her blog, http://beyondagendas.blogspot.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.