So once you know the school is accredited, is the decision easy? Not necessarily. There are still a lot of questions to ask before you make your selection, such as:
- How is the course presented? Investigate the method by which the instructor gives lectures. Does the instructor simply put the lecture online as text? Are there accompanying slides? Is there any interaction? Is there video or audio? Are exams given? How are assignments turned in? The format of the course is sometimes as important as the content. Great content is more easily absorbed if it's done in a dynamic and innovative manner that involves interaction between the student and instructor as well interaction with the content itself. Online learning technology provides many opportunities for innovation. Find a school that takes advantage of it.
- How do students interact with each other?Is there an established method for interaction and congregating? Online programs can use chat rooms, instant messaging, teleconferencing, and video conferencing to communicate. The key is to find a program that has this interaction built into it and even requires it. How the online community functions should be very important to both the instructor and the educational institution.
- Are the instructors qualified?Check out the credentials and degrees the instructors hold, as well as their knowledge of online learning and its differences from classroom learning. What kind of support do the instructors get for their online courses? If technical problems arise, is there someone to turn to? A school that is dedicated to its online programs will have the development staff and the support staff to make it successful. Instructors (and students) have to be able to adapt to changing technology.
- What kind of reputation does the school have?It may seem simple -- a good school will have a good online program. That may be true, but it is also probable that its online program is still too new to judge, so you're left with nothing but the reputation of the school's traditional programs. This reputation, however, may not be as straightforward as you think. You can look at the overall quality of the school and make a judgement, but there may be weaknesses in the program in which you are interested. It's not uncommon for a great school to have a weak program or two.
- How are students evaluated?Earning a degree should mean just that -- earning it. If students aren't assessed properly and degrees are handed out with little or no verification that any knowledge has been transferred from the instructor to the student, then how can the program be rated? Students, particularly adult students, learn more by doing than by simply listening. For this reason, it is important to ensure that part of the program involves applying what has been learned.
- What kinds of library facilities are available?Make sure the school has a good system for ensuring that reference materials and texts are accessible from anywhere. If a student is taking a course in another state (or another country), the online program shouldn't limit that student's ability to do assignments because of lack of electronic reference materials. Online references are extremely important and should be up-to-date and accessible at any time.
Check out the next page for links to virtual and traditional schools that offer online degree programs.