Despite the growing number of distance education degree programs and institutions, some people still believe a stigma lingers over online advanced degrees. There are several misconceptions about the quality and validity of an education received online, that might make potential students weary to enroll. One of the more prominent myths associated with online learning regards academic legitimacy – that online universities are too easy and don’t provide a real education.
Consider a few other myths that contribute to the larger fallacy that online degrees are easy:
Myth: Online schools are not accredited. Any online school worth its salt will seek accreditation. Becoming an accredited university, whether online or traditional, involves a strict, multi-year approval process to ensure a school or individual degree program meets certain standards of quality. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies. It is important that the online university you select is accredited by one of these agencies.
Myth: There is no professor/student interaction in online learning. Some education traditionalists believe an online classroom lacks the interactivity of a traditional campus. But studies of online universities show this argument isn’t valid. In fact, online universities know that interaction is a key component of learning, so they feature interactive classroom discussion forums, direct email and phone communication, and timely assignment feedback from professors. Also, students may interact with each other via online student forums and groups and the school’s social media outlets. Many online universities offer classes with low student-to-faculty ratios so the professors are very accessible. Conversely, compulsory classes offered by large brick and mortar universities have 200 or more students, which diminishes the likelihood of teachers being accessible to students.
Myth: It’s easier to cheat online. With fewer students, not only can professors and students interact more frequently, but they can give assignments on a regular schedule. More assignments can translate to less cheating because the professors are very familiar with both the abilities and idiosyncrasies of their students. Additionally, many universities make project-based assignments or authentic assessments that provide real information about whether their students are learning the required course skills or the materials.
Myth: There is less work required at an online university. Due to the accreditation process, all online courses and programs must meet certain levels of quality identical to those for traditional programs, so required coursework and achievement benchmarks are standardized. Online students must read required materials, submit assignments, take quizzes, and participate in class discussions. Moreover, online classes require more self-discipline than their traditional counterparts because the onus is on the students to allocate the time to participate in classes and complete course work.
Each one of these myths contributes to the misconception that distance learning is an easier way to earn a degree. While there are a number of deceitful “diploma mills” damaging the reputation of credible online universities, it’s important to know that earning a degree in a virtual classroom is every bit as challenging and rewarding as attending a brick and mortar university.
The difficulty of your degree program depends on the school and program in which you enroll. Online degree programs supported by well-respected, accredited universities often offer the same level of curriculum and faculty as a traditional institution. Additionally, a legitimate online university must stay competitive by upholding a reputation for providing quality education and training.
President of American Sentinel University Mary Adams states, “Our goal is to give our students the tools they need to succeed. Online education isn’t about being easier; it’s about being more convenient and flexible. It’s about making it easier to fit education into your schedule. If you don’t have to commute or schedule your life around a fixed schedule, you might find it’s actually easier to achieve your goal. ”
“American Sentinel is the perfect example of what’s right in distance education,” said Chris Kowal, a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, New York, who graduated from the university with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing. “They have teachers known for excellence on a national level, and I can study under them even if we’re on opposite sides of the country.”