Working adults with hectic schedules are beginning to turn to college distance learning to earn the degrees they need to advance their careers, but finding the right program isn't always easy. In many cases, it takes a fair amount of persistence to find an accredited school that will help you learn the skills you need to succeed. Jim Vidmar is an expert in the field of distance education. He received his Master of Liberal Studies degree in administrative leadership from the OU College of Liberal Studies in July 2004, completing the degree in just 18 months! He is currently the Director of Marketing and Communication at the University of Oklahoma Outreach. Vidmar recently took the time to answer some questions about learning online for LoveToKnow's readers.
About Distance Learning
Love to Know (LTK): Why did you decide to earn your degree online?
Jim Vidmar (JV): I was interested in working on my degree online because I didn't want to commit the time necessary to obtain a traditional, classroom-based degree. I enjoy a variety of activities away from work, so I thought the flexibility to study on my own schedule would be best. I also chose to complete my degree online because I was able to obtain a recognized credential from a major, accredited research university and not a corporate storefront.
LTK: How has your online degree benefited your career?
JV: I work in adult and higher education in a university environment, so an advanced degree will definitely make more opportunities available to me. In fact, following the completion of my graduate degree, I have started teaching online marketing courses for the college I graduated from.
Pros and Cons of Distance Learning
LTK: What are the advantages of distance learning? What are the disadvantages?
JV: The most distinct advantage of distance learning is the opportunity to study on your own schedule. While many people enjoy the experience and accountability associated with attending classroom instruction, I believe online or distance learning provides the most flexible opportunity for working adults. The curriculum I worked through was also heavily augmented with online resources that provided a wealth of timely information that is not often available in textbooks.
The inherent disadvantages are created by the course delivery method. Students miss out on the opportunity to visit with professors face-to-face, and the chance to discuss course topics with other students in an open, academic setting.
LTK: Do you feel your coursework was as challenging as the classes in a traditional university? Why or why not?
JV: The online degree I completed was interdisciplinary based, meaning it included perspectives from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. I definitely feel it was as challenging and rigorous a program as a traditional, classroom-based curriculum. In many ways, it was probably more challenging, because as a student you have to be more dedicated to studying the course material, extracting the key points, and synthesizing that information into academic papers.
How to Pick an Online Program
LTK: What should students look for when choosing an online degree program?
JV: As an online student and a professional in the adult and higher education industry, I feel one of the most important things students should look for is accreditation. Students will invest a lot of time and hard-earned money to obtain their degree. They should make sure they are earning a degree that will be recognized as a quality credential by present and future employers.
The growing popularity of online delivery methods has created an open market for private institutions. Students should be wary of programs that offer credit for life experiences, and shorter than normal degree completion timeframes. I think overall, students that are shopping for an online degree program should keep in mind they are shopping for more than a piece of paper. They should be looking for a rigorous, accredited program from a major university that will reflect the quality of their experience and the time and effort they have invested.