11 November 2009

Local Education: a Third Option in the Distance Versus Campus Debate

Recently, I read an article on distance education that began in an interesting way:
If you thought distance learning is a relatively new way to earn a college degree, think again! Online degree programs have only become popular in the last decade or so, but earning a degree by distance learning has been possible for more than 100 years! Prestigious universities in the United Kingdom, like Oxford and Cambridge, helped students earn a college degree at outlying locations, without setting foot on that university’s campus.
This is an article in Official Wire written by Sheila Danzig, in which a summary of distance education is presented, together with an encouragement to avoid "fake degree scams" by consulting the resources of Online Degree Programs' website for accredited online programs.

One of the issues not mentioned in this article is that degree programs tend to be "accredited" by virtue of the accrediting relationship that the "source university" has for its (primarily face-to-face) programs. There is growing concern among educators that online programs are not necessarily being evaluated closely for quality when a widely known institution begins to put courses online. The quality of such programs is taken for granted, based upon the reputation a school has, even when its online curriculum is mostly a media-enriched textbook version of the course with little peer interaction (and oftentimes even less interaction between students and instructors).

There is no question that distance education provides flexibility and independence for learners with chaotic schedules and intricate work and family obligations. However, the binary opposition of campus versus distance in education overlooks a third possibility, local support for online education.

It is possible for online students to retain a great deal of the flexibility and independence they need to maintain their lifestyles in small towns and rural areas, while at the same time getting face-to-face support to keep their education and academic career on target. It is the vision of Paradox Educational Services to provide consultation, coaching, collaboration, and critique to help online students build confidence as members of a learning community together pursuing higher education. Online courses can provide the best access to the highest quality of materials, by choosing from courses offered around the globe. However, there is no substitute for a real-time, face-to-face session with coaches concerned about the academic success of their clients. Such support provides security and builds confidence that leads to success.

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