The range of distance learning programmes provided by so many institutions worldwide can be overwhelming, making the mission of distance learners quite difficult when it comes to choosing the right course.
As distance learning is continuously gaining popularity, the number of online courses and distance learning degrees is increasing steadily. Read below to find an overview of important criteria for choosing a distance learning programme.
1) Accreditation of online programmes
Only accredited and nationally recognised distance learning programmes lead to an academic certified degree and are accepted as such by your future employer. For this reason, it is very important to inform yourself carefully about the recognition of your distance learning programme.
First of all, your desired study programme has to be accredited by a recognised accreditation agency. This agency investigates if the different subjects are combined and coordinated in a meaningful and sensible way that ensures academic standards, as well as the practical relevance of the study programme.
The national recognition is usually done by the Ministry of Education or a similar authority. Note that there can be differences between countries. In Germany, for example, the 16 states (Bundesländer) are independently responsible for the recognition of universities and their study programmes. Besides the accreditation and the national recognition, there are other quality labels and certificates that can give an indication of the quality of the education. Most universities will post information regarding their accreditation on their website, so a simple check can give you sufficient and valuable information.
2) Flexibility of learning
One of the most important reasons for distance learning is the higher flexibility in terms of your learning schedule compared to a conventional on-campus programme. This is why distance learning enables you to combine your career with pursuing a degree more easily. However, there are various differences regarding the flexibility that depend on each university and each distance learning programme you choose.
When deciding on a distance learning programme, you should carefully inform yourself in order to make the best decision for you. Does the university have a fixed semester schedule or can you attend classes according to your own preferences? How often does the university have on-site attendance and are those fixed or flexible? Some distance learning universities offer several dates and locations for the compulsory on-site meetings, so that you can choose the ones that are most convenient for you.
You should not think that on-site meetings are often leading to high additional costs for travelling, accommodation and that they can take up a lot of your already scarce time. Ideally, the on-site meetings should match your work schedule and be close to your home to avoid long and expensive travel times.
3) Overall costs of distance learning degrees
When choosing your distance learning programme, you want to get a good value for money. Distance learning programmes are usually more affordable in terms of tuition fees than traditional study programmes. However, you should keep in mind that there might be extra costs such as for study material or travelling and accommodation costs for on-site meetings.
As studying while you’re also engaged in a job can be quite demanding, you might want to consider reducing your working time from full-time to part-time. This gives you more time to focus on your studies but you also have to cope with a reduction of your income. In combination with high tuition fees, that can quickly lead to financial problems. Many distance learning institutions offer suitable financing options so take these into account when deciding for the right distance learning programme.
4) Student support services
The quality of personal support and assistance is a very important factor when choosing a distance learning programme and often, it is the only that mostly influences the success or failure of your studies.
Depending on your studies and the distance learning institution there can be major differences regarding the quality and kind of personal support provided.
Regarding student support services, you may want to consider things like:
- Is it easy to arrange flexible personal appointments if needed?
- Is there personal support for the exercises and during the exam preparation?
- Are questions answered immediately or do you have to wait for an answer several days?
All these factors have to fit your personal learning needs and preferences. Thereby, staying motivated is an important factor! For instance, if you have a full-time job and you’re also studying a distance degree, it would be important for personal assistance to also be offered in the evenings or on the weekends.
5) Study materials and the digital learning environment
For distance learning education, the quality of the study material and the digital learning environment are even more important than for conventional studies. A motivating learning environment with diverse and interactive tasks, videos, quizzes etc. can improve your study success considerably.
In order to stay in contact with your fellow students, many digital learning environments offer social platforms and a virtual campus that enable you to work together and support each other. Many distance learning institutions offer free test lectures. This can help you get familiar with the different learning environments and to decide, which one fits best to your personal preferences.
Add some of your own criteria when selecting a distance degree
These are just some of the most important factors that most students are looking for when they select a distance education course or degree, but you can extend this list and add some other criteria you think are highly important. How many students attend the same course as you do or what is the graduates’ employability rate may be some important details you would like to consider. So make a list, do your research and find the distance learning programme that matches with your study goals.