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 todays
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,
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,
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.