- Five organizations well versed in online learning have teamed up to develop guidance for students to help them navigate the many options for non-traditional courses.
- The group, which represents Berkeley College, the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, the Online Learning Consortium, Quality Matters and the Cooperative for Educational Technologies at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, came up with key questions it says should help the one in three learners now taking at least one course online.
- The dozens of questions for students to consider revolve around these topics: academic and professional expectations, learning experiences, money matters, technology, support services and outcomes.
With regard to expectations, the group suggests students find out about the history of the course provider, the specific skills or knowledge that will be gained, the type of students who have been, or are, participating and the flexibility of the course schedule and deadlines. It also recommends students find out in advance about credit for previous studies or work experience.
The five organizations recommend students consider “how the schools you may be considering will help you reach your desired outcomes.” They suggest asking about career services, the ability to network with other participants and whether the course results in certification or a license.
In a recent report about new approaches to judging quality in higher education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation lists assessing alternative providers as the biggest new challenge in this area, noting that “no formal external reviews of quality are currently required of them,” though it says new models are taking shape. US News describes the problems with the accreditation programs and quotes an official at Sloan Consortium, a research organization specializing in online learning, as recommending that students go to a regionally accredited institution.
Others are also trying to provide guidance, including some universities. The University of Texas at El Paso has come up with five steps students should take when they choose online offerings, including finding a program that provides support and helps with job placement. It also recommended getting feedback about the course from previous participants.