Online or On-Campus: Which Type of College Is Best for You?

It’s back-to-school time, but you’re not sure whether online learning or traditional education is right for you. Can you succeed in the online classroom or are you more of a traditional-type learner? Take this quiz to determine which education format suits you best.

1. After work today, you’re going home to:

a) relax. I might have dinner with a friend, go to a movie, go dancing, or anything else that suits my fancy.

b) spend time with family. I’ll be helping my kids with their homework, catching up with my spouse, and probably dozing off to some late-night TV.

c) make a pit stop. The night is young; I still plan to serve dinner at the soup kitchen, attend a board meeting for the nonprofit I support, and visit sick kids at the children’s hospital.

Before you enroll in any school, online or traditional, you need to consider your family and other  commitments. Free birds (choice A) may choose either education format, but their social needs might be better met in a physical campus setting. For those with family (choice B) or other non-school commitments (choice C), free time is minimal. In that case, online learning may be the answer – you can be with your kids while they’re awake or give back to charities early in the evening and log on to the online classroom when your schedule permits.

2. When it comes to blogging, uploading files to the Internet, and utilizing social media like Facebook and Twitter, you feel:

a) psyched. I love chatting with friends and sharing information, and the latest technological innovations facilitate that process.

b) cautious. I hardly know how to get online without assistance. Besides, isn’t it dangerous to put personal information on the Internet?

c) neutral. Technology is useful, but it has its limitations. Though I’m comfortable with e-mail, I’d rather talk face to face.

Before you jump into an online classroom, you need to assess your level of comfortability with technology. If you answered B, adjusting to the online learning platform will be a challenge for your technical abilities as well as your personal preferences. Traditional education may be a better fit. If you answered A, the online classroom won’t intimidate you a bit, nor will it serve as an obstacle to be overcome. If you answered C, you probably have the ability to handle the technical aspects of online education but you may not be ready to make the psychological shift to schooling on your laptop. Before you proceed, ask yourself if you’re truly ready to embrace the online classroom or if you prefer the traditional classroom format.

3. The facts and concepts you still remember from your school days were learned by:

a) reading books. Sometimes I can even visualize where a phrase appeared on the page.

b) studying with friends. Quizzing each other and talking out the answers kept the material at the tip of my tongue.

c) active exploration. Whether performing experiments or creating presentations, I’ve always learned best when the instruction is hands-on.

Learning style is a critical component of suitability for online learning or traditional education. If you answered C, you’re a tactile learner who needs to touch things to make them come alive in your mind. If you answered A, you’re a visual learner who thinks in pictures, takes detailed notes, and studies body language and facial expression. If you answered B, you’re an auditory learner, which means you remember what you hear and what you speak. Those who answered A and B are poised to succeed in the online classroom, while those who answered C would probably fare best in a traditional classroom or a blended learning environment that incorporates a laboratory/internship component.

4. If you had to describe your study habits, you would say they are:

a) Excellent. I keep a calendar for all my assignments and I work on long-term projects well before the due date.

b)  So-so. I try to tackle assignments ahead of time but I often end up pulling all-nighters to get work done.

c) What are study habits?

If you want to experience even a modicum of success in an online classroom, you need to be a time management pro. Just because you don’t have to log on every day doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Procrastinators (choice B) will struggle in the online arena, as will those who don’t have the first clue about organization and scheduling (choice C). Those who manage their time well on their own (choice A) have the best chance of keeping pace with online learning – even without the physical presence of professors and classmates.

5. You’re exhausted after a long day at work and now you have studying to do. What motivates you to get started?

a) Rewards. I need the promise of a bowl of ice cream or a favorite TV show to keep me working toward the goal.

b) Myself. I know what I have to do and I do it. It’s important to me, so I just buckle down and get it done.

c) Friends. I can work through anything with the encouragement of a friend. Studying alongside each other is even better.

This question deals with the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, a significant consideration in your higher education decision. Independent workers (choice B) are a natural fit for the online classroom, while those who complete assignments under a reward system (choice A) are more extrinsically motivated and may therefore have a hard time keeping themselves going when working alone. Collaborative workers (choice C) can still succeed in online education; they just need to be proactive in making connections and finding creative ways to work with their peers in real time.

6. How realistic is it for you to commute to a brick-and-mortar campus?

a) Not very realistic. I need to work full time and stay home in the evenings with my kids.

b) Totally unrealistic. I live in a rural town and the nearest college is ridiculously far away.

c) It depends. I can make it to campus, but my business traveling could make it difficult for me to commit to one location for a semester-long course.

Sometimes the choice between online and traditional education is made clear by factors beyond your control. If your mobility (choice C) or lack thereof (choices A and B) makes it nearly impossible for you to get to campus, online education is the obvious choice. Online education allows you to learn from home or anywhere else in the world. Traditional education is only feasible if you can commit to one location for learning outside your home.

7. The best word to describe your current work schedule is:

a) Grueling. It’s rare to get out earlier than 7 or 8 p.m.

b) Flexible. I take advantage of flextime: It doesn’t matter when I do my work, as long as I get it done on time.

c) Standard. I’ve got a typical 9-to-5 job – I can’t leave early but I don’t feel pressure to stay late, either.

When you’re making plans to go back to school, it’s important to assess your work demands. Anyone who works long hours (choice A) will have trouble finding a campus program that fits their schedule. Those with a more flexible schedule (choice B) can probably enroll in a traditional education program with ease. Nine-to-fivers (choice C) can also head to campus for night and weekend classes or perhaps pursue a blended learning program.

8. When you picture what you want out of your education and your career, your vision is:

a) Crystal clear. I know exactly what I want to study and where my education will take me.

b) Cloudy. I think I know which program I’ll pursue but I’m not sure how it relates to my profession.

c) Muddy. I haven’t decided on a major and I don’t know how education will impact my career.

Going back to school is a big decision, not one to be made on a whim. If you don’t have a clear idea about why you’re in school in the first place (choice C), it may be tough to stick with the program when challenges arise. That can be true in traditional education as well as online education. Having some clue where you’re headed (choice B) is helpful, but it may not be enough when you don’t have a professor standing over your shoulder. If you choose to pursue online education, you will be much more motivated to stay on task when your goals are clearly defined (choice A).

How did you do? Whether you’re cut out for online education or a traditional classroom, it’s time to get started and make the most of your higher education endeavor.

Moms @ School: Avoiding “Mommy Brain”

Breast pumps and bouncer seats, play dates and pacifiers. These are building blocks of the mommy vocabulary. But as much as moms love their 24/7 caregiving job, they often long to add more adult vocabulary and interaction into their days.

Unfortunately, many moms don’t have the option of commuting to class to earn a degree or just get some intellectual stimulation. But moms have found the perfect way to stay connected with the outside world and avoid succumbing to total “mommy brain” — online education.

According to the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term. In fact, enrollment rates at online schools have increased at an annual rate of 9.7 percent, compared to an overall rate of 1.5 percent for all colleges combined.

It’s no surprise that online schools are increasing in popularity, especially with the mommy set. The flexibility is reason enough for moms to pursue this education format. Online courses eliminate the obstacles of transportation and time, allowing the busy mom to “attend” class when it suits her schedule. And women are certainly making time for their education: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in October 2006, 56 percent of all undergrads were women.

Positive Role Model
A mom pursuing online education provides an excellent example for her children. By taking time for her education, she demonstrates the importance of lifelong learning as well as the art of creating goals and sticking to them. Children learn that mom is a separate individual with a life and a purpose outside of her service to them. This helps them understand that, though they are a top priority in mom’s life, the world does not revolve around them.

Personal Satisfaction
Kids are not the only ones to benefit from mom’s online education, of course. For many moms, online courses are a way to preserve sanity by putting their intellectual energy into something that has nothing to do with potty training or princess dresses. And this benefit extends to the kids as well. After all, a sane mom is a happy mom, and a happy mom is better equipped to care for her children.

Moms who wish to invest in their families and in themselves are making time for both with online education. What could be a better investment of your intellectual energy?

by Robyn Tellefsen

10 Surprising Subjects You Can Learn Online

Some degrees, like computer science, naturally lend themselves to online study. Others, like clinical counseling, might seem better suited to the traditional classroom. But you can learn a lot more online than you’d think.

Take a look at some eDegrees you never knew existed:

Agricultural Sciences
Is it a conflict of interests to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree that emphasizes a love of the environment and fresh air — online? Unless you bring your laptop outside, you are, in essence, earning a degree in outdoor science indoors… but online students aren’t complaining. Your program may require that you complete a lab component at a college in your area; other programs may be completed fully online.

Online master’s degree programs in counseling, which may lead to careers in applied behavioral analysis, mental health counseling, or substance abuse counseling, typically include a practicum that requires you to provide counseling services under the direction of a qualified supervisor. Just make sure you can access approved practicum training in your area before you enroll in an online school. You need to have some practice with face-to-face counseling!

Student teaching is an integral component of any education degree program, and field experiences related to specific course content must be verified and documented in your professional portfolio, but all other education courses required for licensure may be taken online. Does this mean elementary education majors no longer have to spend hours making construction paper cutouts for class?

Fire Science
An online degree in fire science provides the education needed for a career in fire protection leadership, which encompasses disaster planning and the administration of fire-protection services. Online degree programs may even be developed in conjunction with the National Fire Academy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and feature courses you wouldn’t guess are online, like fire investigation and analysis.

Online degree programs in gerontology can prepare you to implement and manage health and human service programs for seniors. It’s important to take advantage of an internship experience in a senior care facility, but your online school may not provide that option until later in the program. In that case, it could be worthwhile to pursue a volunteer or internship position prior to enrollment so you can be sure that a career in gerontology is right for you.

Homeland Security
A degree in homeland security may seem more, well, secure in-person than online, but graduates of these online degree programs are generally no less eligible for careers in government and industry security leadership than traditional grads are. And an online school can certainly help you develop a broader perspective and a global outlook as you collaborate with students who hail from diverse backgrounds nationwide.

Not many schools offer a juris doctor degree online, but they are out there. Online courses are grounded in core bar courses, and online degree programs may even meet the legal education requirements in your state. Plus, many online law students find they receive more individualized feedback and experience a stronger sense of community with their colleagues than they have at traditional schools.

Not only can you earn an RN-to-BSN in an online degree program that’s fully accredited by the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, you may even be able to do it with no on-campus component whatsoever. You can also take online courses toward an RN license, but RN programs do require in-person clinical experience.

Speech-Language Pathology
Accredited online master’s degree programs in speech-language pathology provide the coursework as well as the clinical experience needed to obtain state licensure and certification by the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association. Your online school can even secure clinical rotations and externships for you in your area.

Veterinary Technology
Quite a few online schools offer accredited associate degree programs in veterinary technology, which include online courses in anesthesiology, animal care, diagnostic imaging, and surgical procedures. It’s especially interesting that veterinary technology programs are available online, since the career is physically intense, requiring heavy lifting as well as manual dexterity. Of course, online degree programs do require practicum experiences at veterinary hospitals.

Don’t assume you need to commute to make your career dreams come true. No matter what the subject, online courses can help you get exactly where you want to go.

Online Learners Break the Mold: Can You Be One of Them?

No one group of people represents the traditional online student. That’s what makes the ability to take courses and earn degrees online so great: It’s something that works for a variety of students, and the barriers such as schedules, jobs, or distance are no longer a problem with online learning.

Here’s a look at six types of students logging on to learn.

1. Military personnel: Being on base or in another country doesn’t hinder educational goals set by those who serve and protect the U.S. In fact, about 10 percent of all institutions that offer online learning have courses and programs designed for U.S. military students, according to a report by the Sloan Consortium. Those include private, for-profit schools, which the report says are twice as likely as other types of schools to be meeting the educational needs of military personnel.

2. Stay-at-home moms: Raising kids is enough to keep any person busy, but some moms are looking to future employment – possibly when their young children enter school full time – and recognizing they need to return to school to reach those goals. Online learning allows moms and others to do the work when the kids are in bed, often using late nights or early mornings to complete assignments. The hard work now can pay off in the future.

3. High school students: Some schools offer a complete high school education online, a benefit for those seeking flexibility in schools or who have found the traditional high school education doesn’t work for them. The opportunity to take online college classes also allows traditional high school students to get a jump on their college education by completing credit hours before setting foot on a campus.

4. Corporate America: Executives and managers are using online learning to improve their chances for advancement while not losing an hour from an already hectic workday. The commute-free learning, which corporations have embraced by spending money on the programs, allows them to earn MBAs or specific certifications that help them perform better in their jobs, too.

5. Those physically disabled:
Individuals with mobility problems will find an advantage in online learning because of the ability to take courses at home. They can take the course at their own pace, and also avoid any concerns about how their classmates perceive them. Assistive technology makes it easier for some disabled individuals, particularly those without use of their hands, to attain their educational goals in an online setting. But studies show that more needs to be done to improve online learning for Americans with disabilities. More than 30 million people in the U.S. are unable to learn online because of inaccessible computer design, according to a study in the AACE (Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education) Journal.

6. Laid-off workers: The tough economic times have caused people who have lost their jobs to use online programs to increase their knowledge in their existing profession or to launch an entirely new career. Online programs in health, technology, business, and other areas allow people to return to school while still on the job hunt or doing temporary employment.