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Sharon Reed AbboudOnline Education Gets Accolades

Experts Weigh in on Distance Learning

By Sharon Reed Abboud

Dr. Walter Seabold, an author and adjunct professor at American University, School of International Service in Washington D.C., has recently gone back to college. Despite his credentials (a Ph.d in International Relations and Russian studies as well as years of teaching experience), Dr. Seabold has added another feather to his cap - an M.A. in distance learning, which he obtained online at University of Maryland University College. In today’s increasingly technology based world, distance learning is becoming an important component for both instructors and students at universities worldwide.

“I had been steadily adding technology-based aspects of teaching and learning into my classes over several years, and I felt the acquisition of knowledge of distance education in theory and practice, and technologies for same, would be more than useful,” Seabold explained.

Online education is gaining in popularity, legitimacy and prestige. Adult mid-career professionals are flocking to take online courses and entire degrees through distance learning. The benefits are obvious: the opportunity to learn from home, largely on your own schedule. However, in the past, many people worried about the stigma of ““diploma mills” or “correspondence courses” being attached to their coursework. Not any longer. According to many professionals and academic experts, distance learning is gaining equal footing with traditional “brick and mortar” on-campus degrees.

The National Center for Education Statistics report, Distance Education at Degree-Granting PostSecondary Institutions 2000-2001, shows online education as the fastest growing sector of the educational marketplace. The NCES predicts a rise in online learners from 3 million in 2001 to more than 6 million by 2006. In addition, a Sloan Consortium survey, Sizing the Opportunity: the Quality and Extent of Online Education in the United States 2002 and 2003, found that more than 1.6 million students took at least one online course during the Fall of 2002, with over one-third of these students completing all of their courses online. (The Sloan Consortium is a Needham, Masachusetts based consortium of institutions and organizations involved in online education.)

According to the survey, online learning is gaining acceptance among the majority of academic institutions and was seen as “equal” and in some cases “superior” to traditional education. Dr. A. Frank Mayadas, president of the Sloan Foundation, agrees that online education is growing rapidly--with greater than 20 percent increases each year--because it is “meeting a need and doing so with quality education at a reasonable cost to the end-user.”

Eighty-one percent of all institutions of higher learning surveyed offer at least one fully online or blended (partially online) course. Complete online programs are offered by 34 percent of the institutions. Perhaps more telling, when asked about the role of online education for the future of their institution, 67 percent answered that it is a critical long-term strategy for their institution, the survey said.

But Are Online Degrees Marketable?

Laura Walter, information specialist at the Distance Education and Training Council, says that on-line degrees are as marketable as traditional degrees as long as “the degree comes from an institution accredited by a recognized agency, meaning the accrediting agency is recognized by the US Department of
Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, or both.”

Peter Dirr, consultant, Western Governors University, agrees. “Online degrees from regionally accredited institutions are just as marketable as other degrees from those same institutions." Dirr says that what is important is “which institution offered the degree,” and not whether or not it is obtained via distance learning.

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