Online Education Learning FAQs

Online Education Learning FAQs

1. What is Distance Learning?
2. What Is Accreditation?
3. Why Might Accreditation Be Important?
4. What Kind of Accreditation Should I Look for in an Online College?
5. What Are the Names of the Regional Accreditation Boards?
6. What Are the Advantages of Attending a Regionally Accredited College?
7. What Other Types of Accreditation Are Widely Recognized in the United States?
8. What About Programmatic Accreditation?
9. What Is a Diploma Mill?
10. Are All Degree-Granting Universities those are Unaccredited or Accredited by Unrecognized Agencies Also Diploma Mills?
11. What Questions Should I Ask About Accreditation to Protect Myself?
12. Can’t I Just Use the Internet to Find a Good Virtual University?
13. Do you have any recommendations for being a better online student?

1. What is Distance Learning?
Distance learning is any learning that takes place with the instructor and student geographically remote from each other. Distance learning may occur by surface mail, video, interactive or cable TV, satellite broadcast, or any number of Internet technologies such as message boards, chat rooms, and desktop video or computer conferencing.

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2. What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation is any form of independent review of educational programs for the purpose of helping to establish that the learning offered is of a uniform and sound quality.

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3. Why Might Accreditation Be Important?
Accreditation of an online university may be important if you seek to have a public record of your learning that will be widely accepted by employers, professional associations, and other colleges and universities.

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4. What Kind of Accreditation Should I Look for in an Online College?
In the United States the most widely recognized form of accreditation for degree-granting programs comes from the regional accreditation boards. Harvard University is regionally accredited. Ohio University is regionally accredited. Stanford University is regionally accredited. Indiana State University is regionally accredited … and so on. When people ask if you have attended an “accredited university” in the United States, they most commonly mean a regionally accredited university.

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5. What Are the Names of the Regional Accreditation Boards?
Each of the 6 geographic regions of the United States has a non-governmental agency that oversees, reviews, and accredits degree-granting institutions that are headquartered in their territories. The 6 regional accreditation boards are:

MSA–Middle States Association
NASC–Northwest Association of Schools & Colleges
NCA–North Central Association of Colleges & Schools
NEASC–New England Association of Schools & Colleges
SACS–Southern Association of Colleges & Schools
WASC–Western Association of Schools & Colleges
These 6 boards are seen as equal in each other’s eyes and the eyes of academics for the purpose of transferring credits or degree status from one college to another. There is no better or worse among these 6 agencies. Regionally accredited colleges recognize degrees and credits earned at each other’s institutions as equal to their own.

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6. What Are the Advantages of Attending a Regionally Accredited College?
A major benefit of earning credits or degrees at regionally accredited colleges is that credits or degrees earned at one regionally accredited university are generally fully accepted in transfer by other regionally accredited colleges. Credits and degrees earned at non-regionally accredited universities are not commonly accepted in transfer by regionally accredited institutions.

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7. What Other Types of Accreditation Are Widely Recognized in the United States?
The Distance Education & Training Council (DETC) is a nationally recognized accreditation agency for distance learning colleges. The DETC accredits over 70 institutions that sponsor home study programs of all types. While the DETC is a recognized accrediting agency, credits and degrees earned at DETC colleges are not yet widely accepted in transfer by regionally accredited colleges.

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8. What About Programmatic Accreditation?
Sometimes academic departments within colleges and universities seek special accreditation for their programs. Careers that are regulated by state or national licensing boards may require students to attend college departments that hold special accreditation. For example, many teacher licensing boards require that students earn their education degrees from colleges whose education departments are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. State bar or lawyer licensing exam agencies may require applicants to hold degrees from law schools that are accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). For a list of recognized programmatic accreditation agencies, visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

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9. What Is a Diploma Mill?
A diploma mill is the name given to any university that operates primarily to make money or issue degrees/credentials without any thought to insuring that an education occurs. Diploma mills literally crank or “mill out” paper diplomas to anyone who applies and sends them the requested “tuition” amount — generally a lump sum of about $2,000 — though sometimes much more.

In many states there exists no regulation of the term “college” or “university.” This means that you, or anyone else, might legally declare you a university and begin issuing degrees any day of the week. (A frightening thought, eh?)

Diploma mills have existed for decades. They often operate out of phone boiler rooms with high-pressure telemarketers who follow up e-mail requests and Web site visits with an aggressive enrollment approach via the telephone. Some of these diploma mills have been in operation for decades. Like telephone scams, they avoid prosecution by changing the state(s) they operate in from time to time and by locating themselves in states or foreign countries with the lamest educational laws.

Diploma mills prey on people’s lack of knowledge and confusion about accreditation. One favorite trick that works time and again for diploma mills is that they advertise widely as being “fully accredited” or “nationally accredited” or “accredited worldwide.” They advertise heavily in magazines, on the Internet in newsgroups, and at impressive looking Web sites. The trick here is that are indeed “accredited” — but it is by unrecognized agencies — often by bogus accrediting agencies that they themselves have created.

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10. Are All Degree-Granting Universities those are Unaccredited or Accredited by Unrecognized Agencies Also Diploma Mills?
No. There are colleges and universities with distance degree programs that are not accredited by any recognized agency that are not diploma mills. These programs have opted not to seek regional or DETC accreditation for their own reasons — often because they object to the standards or procedures that traditional accreditation implies in the United States. Often these colleges teach subjects that may not be readily taught at a “traditionally accredited” university — subjects like extra-sensory perception or animal acupuncture, for example. It is possible to get a very good education at some of these unaccredited universities, but their coursework and degrees remain unrecognized by regional or DETC accredited colleges.

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11. What Questions Should I Ask About Accreditation to Protect Myself?
Are Your Accredited?
If So, Whom Are You Accredited By?
Is the accrediting agency in question a recognized agency? Remember that accreditation by unrecognized agencies is a common ploy of online diploma mills! In the United States, the Council for Higher Education is the agency that oversees legitimate accrediting agencies. CHEA maintains a directory of recognized accrediting agencies at their Web site.

Make Sure You Understand the Kind of Accreditation You Personally Need
Does the kind of accreditation the colleges have meet your personal and career needs?

If In Doubt, Verify the Accreditation
Check the official independent guide to such matters: The American Council on Education’s “Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education.” This annual official guide does not lie. This guide can be found in any college library or at any accredited college’s Registrar’s Office. (The Registrar is the person who checks this sort of thing before granting you admission or transfer credit status at any regionally accredited college in the United States.)

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12. Can’t I Just Use the Internet to Find a Good Virtual University?
Absolutely Not. Much of the information on the Internet is not filtered or fact-checked. Web sites are not checked with any scrutiny to determine if the site is operating from a scam or legitimate position. Anyone can create a Web site and submit their URL to a master Web directory or engine for indexing. To complicate matters the .edu (education) domain extension on Web and e-mail addresses is not regulated at present either. Do not be misled into thinking that a Web site or e-mail message that has .edu at the end of it MUST be a real educational institution!

For these reasons, you cannot assume that because a university has a Web page listed at a popular online site, like Yahoo! or AltaVista, that this fact alone “legitimizes” the college and what it has to offer. You must carefully scrutinize all information that is available on the Internet in order to protect yourself from fraud or from investing in an education that may not meet your personal needs.

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13. Do you have any recommendations for being a better online student?
The following are some tips that that may help improve study skills and organization for distance learners.

  • Thoroughly research the course online prior to registering. Course syllabuses are generally posted on the school’s website and can provide you with important information regarding required time, materials, group work, etc. At that point, you can make an informed decision about taking the course and dedicate the appropriate amount of time. The syllabus will also inform you about course objectives, calendar, textbooks used, assignments, the professor’s background, etc. It is an important document that you will refer to throughout the term.
  • Be sure to identify what will be required of you in terms of computer hardware and software before enrolling in a particular course. Access to a VCR, fax machine, email and web access are “must-have” items for many online classes, so be sure to check the requirements up front.
  • Broadband web access (e.g. DSL or cable modem) may be a worthwhile investment, given the amount of online coursework required or time spent researching online or chatting with team members.
  • Dedicate a fixed amount of time each day for your online coursework. Distance learning does provide schedule flexibility, but academic work is required and you will have regular assignments to complete and submit to your instructors.
  • Keep yourself as organized as possible. Set educational objectives and maintain a calendar throughout the months of the course to ensure you are completing assignments on a timely basis.
  • Try and avoid interruptions during the times you have set aside for your online study. Find locations that work best for you, in terms of maximizing your productivity, such as a local library.
  • Keep in regular contact with your instructor. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or request some one-on-one time to review coursework, assignments or progress being within your team (often referred to as “Cohorts”).
  • Make the most of your time with fellow team members. They make good study partners and are generally a good resource when preparing for exams.
  • Discuss your progress and ask for regular feedback from your professor.

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