Digging Deeper When Selecting an Online College
Question: What is the meaning of education?
Nearly every website that offers advice on selecting among several online colleges will point to ten factors that should be included in your decision-making process. These include
- program requirements
- school reputation
- financial assistance
- convenient access
- program pacing
- employment schedule considerations
- employment opportunities
- transfer credits
- how close the physical campus is to your home.
While these are extremely important considerations, especially when choosing between going to college on a physical campus versus choosing online higher education, one shouldn’t ignore the reason for pursuing a higher education degree in the first place: to get an education.
As more and more options become available to attend online colleges, from brand-new, accredited schools to established institutions that are opting into an online format, these ten factors are clearly not enough to distinguish between programs. Indeed, these ten factors are not unique to online colleges; it could be said that they are also among the top considerations for selecting among the hundreds of physical campuses located across the U.S.
So what other decision criteria should you consider? We have compiled five additional factors that directly pertain to your reasons for choosing higher education in the first place. These additional factors will determine how you will be educated and the value you will receive from your online education.
1. Will the education you receive make you competent to gain employment?
A recent Pew Research Poll asked employers and university administrators if they thought that recent college graduates had the requisite skill sets to enter the workforce. While 75% of college administrators believed their graduates were ready, only an astonishing 11% of employers believed that prospective college graduate candidates were ready.
This wide discrepancy goes back to the question – what is the meaning of education? Clearly, colleges and employers have two different definitions. Employers are looking for an education that confers competency to do specific job skills, and they overwhelmingly don’t think that graduates bring those skills to the interviewing table.
Our recommendation: Ask your current employer, or employers that you may consider working for in the future, to recommend online college programs that meet or exceed their standards for training their future workforce.
2. What are the opportunities for unified communications?
Online colleges obviously lack the one-on-one, in-person interaction between a student and professor and students and each other. The advancement in collaboration tools makes active participation in lectures and labs possible. Is the online college you are considering taking full advantage of these tools?
Technology makes it possible for online classrooms to replicate the classroom experience with video conferencing, instant messaging and social connectivity. These can make a huge difference in a student’s ability to learn from each other – key ingredients in learning how to interact with and learn from others.
Our recommendation: Ask prospective online colleges how their online classrooms leverage online collaboration.
3. Will you be enrolling in a MOOC or a learning lab?
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) can be attended by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students. These are typically online lectures recorded and then replayed at the convenience of the student or at specified times. The principle negative of a MOOC is lecture fatigue; watching hours and hours of a talking head has led to a significant drop out rate and does not provide the interpersonal support and interaction that leads to a better understanding of course materials. Further, evaluation is difficult and usually consists of online exams and/or peer review.
MOOCs exist because they can be delivered to the broadest possible audience and at a place and time that is convenient for the student. But do they promote the best learning environment?
Our recommendation: Ask about the courses you will be taking and how large they are, how the material will be delivered and how your course work will be evaluated.
4. Student Body Demographics
College campuses are melting pots of students of all races, countries of origin and ethnic backgrounds which serve to educate the collegiate population about global citizenship and cultural differences. This is part of the college experience that can’t be quantified or listed on a resume but can be highly desirable attributes to globally-conscious employers. The opportunities to learn new ways of thinking, of approaching a problem or for gauging responses to ever-complex global questions might just be found through classmate interaction.
Our recommendation: Inquire about the demographic makeup of the student body and how many countries and cultures are represented in your online schools of choice.
5. Emphasis on Critical Thinking?
Traditional universities have, for centuries, had as a key function the dissemination of information to their student population. Students memorized the information or memorized the mathematical or scientific processes. That information, because of the internet, has become easy to access where previously, the information was locked behind the walls of academia.
Today’s employers are seeking problem-solvers; those who can do more than memorize and regurgitate information, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, especially those who have the ability, through sustained analysis, to recommend solutions to complex business issues.
Our recommendation: Explore the types of courses you will be taking and find out if they encourage critical thinking or place too much emphasis on facts and figures.
By digging deeper into the teaching methods of the online colleges you are considering, you will not only discover the best matches for your learning style but discover colleges that will truly educate you for your chosen career path.