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Online Education Gets Accolades
(Continued from 1)

Andrea Martino, director of public relations at University of Maryland, University College (a provider of 91 online undergraduate and graduate courses), says there is “absolutely” no difference between online and traditional learning. “Online degrees are probably more marketable, since busy adults have to factor in additional time for jobs, child care, etc. not to mention commuting to and from class," she said.

According to Professor Thomas L. Russell, director emeritus of instructional telecommunications at North Carolina State University, distance learning is growing in popularity. In his book,“The No Significant Difference Phenomenon,” Russell presents research on numerous studies comparing traditional and distance learning. He determined that there is generally no significant difference between the two modes of education. “I feel that it is gaining in acceptance and eventually will be fully accepted,” Russell commented. "The question, in the end, will be determined by employers."

Dr. Farhad Saba, professor, San Diego State University and founder of, says that most universities do not differentiate between online and traditional learning. “In that sense, the degrees are comparable," he said. Saba notes that online distance education has evolved from other forms of distance learning. “Since the mid 1950’s, we have had systemic comparative analysis and the so-called face-to-face education, research has shown no statistically significant difference between the two.”

Dr. Barry Willis, Associate Vice President-Outreach, University of Idaho, states that "on-line degrees are as marketable as traditional degrees" if they are from a well respected and accredited institution, such as a traditional university or a well respected non-traditional institution such as the University of Phoenix. Willis runs Distance Education at a Glance, a Web site covering many aspects of distance education. Mayadas, of the Sloan Foundation, agrees, noting that the coursework must be online and not some other form of distance education (e.g., correspondence).

Dr. Larry W. Long, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, Illinois State University, says that online learning popularity will continue as long as online learning is more convenient than traditional learning. Long notes that online learners tend to be employed, older and more mature than a traditional learner. Long predicts increased rigor of courses and improvement of credentials of instructors over the next few years. “Increased accreditation expectations will occur to heighten the credibility of credit earned by the student,” Long explained.

Nevertheless, there are caveats. Long notes that it is “impossible” to effectively teach someone to give a speech or manage a board discussion without being in physical proximity to an audience. “However, we can provide descriptions of theories, applications, and guidelines. Effectively putting these principles into practice requires close coaching in a face-to-face setting with an expert,” Long added.

And while online students tend to be comprised of mid-career professionals, working adults, parents,students with disabilities, or those that live in remote areas, most experts advise young college students not to forgo the traditional undergraduate experience. Many will take some of their coursework online--supplementing traditional face-to-face instruction.

According to Leslie E. Vance, Ph.d, Program Coordinator, Information Technology, Western Governors University,“Five years ago, online degrees were greeted with skepticism. Not anymore. That’s partially because almost all traditional universities are now offering online courses or degrees. Furthermore, many employers appreciate that online students must demonstrate a great deal of self-discipline to succeed online--and that’s an attribute employers value.”

Seabold agrees. “Distance students may be even more motivated than traditional students. Distance education could be said to give one 'an experiential boost in the workplace' by the addition of technical credentials to a student’s academic credentials."

Online Learners Speak Out

- Greg Rosenthal, Rockville, Maryland, recently obtained his second B.A. in Communications at the University of Maryland, University College (UMUC). “Since I was pursuing a career change and I had a family, I really could not go back to the campus scene I had enjoyed the first time around in college. The online classes gave me the flexibility in my schedule by not requiring me to take the time to commute to school to attend lectures.”

- Gwen Washington, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, received her B.A. from UMUC and is working toward an online M.B.A. “As a single parent, who works full-time, distance learning offered me flexibility.”

- Selena Majeed, of Tampa, Florida, is currently enrolled in UMUC, working toward a B.S. degree in Human Resources Management. She began her studies in Toronto. “Being that my husband’s career moves around a lot, I needed to be flexible in all aspects. An online education allows me the flexibility I need, but I also wanted a quality education from a traditional school, versus a virtual school.”

- Debbie Alms, of Lakeland, Minnesota, received an M.B.A. in Conflict management from Jones International University. “After completing my undergraduate degree at a traditional university and working for several years, I wanted to challenge myself to self-study and discipline that is required through online learning.”

Sharon Reed Abboud is a Northern Virginia-based freelance writer. She has four children, ages 10, 8 ,6, and 4.

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