Distance Education: Four Things to Look For in an Online ProgramDistance Education: Four Things to Look For in an Online Program

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is a pioneer in distance education and has delivered quality distance programs for over 40 years. During that time, the delivery of instruction has evolved and much has been learned about the needs of students learning in nontraditional settings. Advances in technology have enabled greater opportunities for student engagement with professors, peer students and content.

As the second oldest distance education program in the nation, our college developed its programming alongside traditional campus classes, instilling our values and setting high standards for both types of students. Over the past decade, the field of distance education has exploded with many other colleges and universities adding distance programs in concert with their traditional offerings. Other educational enterprises have opened their doors with online programming as their only mode of education. Today, students have so many opportunities and choices for online education. Here are four things to consider when making your choice.

Decide your major. This should be the first filter in making a decision. This research should be combined with information about a school’s academic reputation. The institution should be regionally accredited to guarantee that courses will transfer and that the degrees earned will be recognized by all other institutions of higher education. Other important considerations are graduation rates, internship opportunities, placement rates and support for technology.
Be sure there is involvement from regular, full-time faculty. The commitment of full-time faculty adds authenticity and integrity to your degree while also improving your satisfaction and success. Knowing how the curriculum in the online program is developed and assessed will help you make an informed choice about programs. Ideally, faculty who design and deliver courses for online programs are well-connected with the institution, are dedicated to its mission and teach in its traditional formats. Heavy reliance on adjunct faculty, who deliver courses designed by others, creates a disconnect in the teaching and learning process. The availability of services that support student learning such as virtual office hours, online tutoring and help desk support is vital to ensuring student success in online programs.
Examine policies and practices. Take a good look at policies, particularly those, which demonstrate the commitment of the institution to the success of its online students. Flexibility and understanding about the circumstances of life that arise and policies that demonstrate this understanding are critical! What happens when you need to interrupt your studies to attend to a sick child?
Seek colleges and universities that actively encourage involvement. Engaging online students in important traditions, ceremonies and celebrations enriches your overall educational experience. Nothing better demonstrates the importance of online students to the mission and future of an institution than including them in the events that make up its fabric and tell its story! At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, our online students participate in our long-standing Ring Ceremony, and receive their black onyx class ring alongside our traditional students. And, I can tell you that receiving that ring for them is just as meaningful as it is for those students who lived on campus for four years.