Choosing a Distance Education Program

It is important to know what to look for in selecting a distance education program. This article is written for Head Start staff and parents interested in participating in a distance education program. Included is a list of questions designed to help prospective students determine if a distance-learning program will meet their needs.

The following is an excerpt from ...
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by Deitra L. Nealy-Shane

Remember those correspondence courses you used to see advertised in the back of your favorite magazine? Well believe it or not, those were the precursor to today's distance education revolution. Distance education is all the buzz right now, but before you jump on the bandwagon, it is important that you know what to look for when selecting a program. The increase of non-traditional students returning to college and the technology explosion have opened the flood gates of courses offered on-line, on television, by satellite, by correspondence and even by conference call! Alternative course delivery often means that you will not only learn more about the subject of the course, but also that you will be stretched to find and process information in ways you have never imagined.

However, all distance education programs are not created equal. By doing your homework before enrolling, you will ensure that the course of study you enroll in will meet your needs. Ask yourself these questions:

What are the qualifications of the sponsoring institution?

Is the coursework offered by an accredited, well-respected, technical school, college, or university? Who are the faculty members and are they credentialed?

Who are the targeted students?

Are most of the students currently enrolled in the program non-traditional students? What is the retention rate for the program? Is financial assistance available?

Is it a degree-awarding program?

Are the courses credit-bearing and attached to a degree program? If not, will your local college or university count them towards your degree plan?

What skills should you have?

If the course is computer based, what level of computer proficiency do you need? Is the format geared for independent study, or will you have opportunities to work with your peers? Are courses geared for first-time students, or for those with prior college coursework?

What resources will you need?

What hardware—i.e. satellite access, cable television, or computer with access to the Internet—will you need? Will you need any special software? Are reading materials covered under the cost of enrollment, or will you have to purchase additional texts?

What support systems are in place?

Does the program provide locally based facilitators? Is there a mechanism in place to link you with other students in your area? Is tutoring available? Is assistance available if you have technical difficulties? How and when can you contact your instructor?

Deitra L. Nealy-Shane was a 2000–2001 Head Start Fellow with the Head Start Bureau in Washington, D.C.

"Choosing a Distance Education Program." Nealy-Shane, Deitra L. Professional Development: The Cornerstone for Trust and Empowerment. Head Start Bulletin #72. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2002. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2012

Last Updated: March 23, 2016