Five Steps to Find Success in Online Education


Follow these steps to get the most from an online education.

By Tony Moton

Think earning an online degree is cheaper, easier, and faster than a traditional degree? Think again.

"People go in thinking it's going to be self-paced, faster, and easier," says online education expert Tammy Peery. "That is not usually the case."

Peery, an online English professor at Montgomery College in Maryland, says it's essential for students to do their homework before getting started in an online program. And while you might be disappointed to hear that an online degree isn't as easy as rumors suggest, there are some perks that might be to your liking.

"There are many different kinds of payoffs, like flexibility," Peery says. "You can take classes online at two in the morning if that fits your schedule."

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Keep reading to learn about how to make the most out of an online education.

Step #1 - Be Sure an Online Education Fits Your Needs

Online education isn't "one size fits all." It actually requires a lot of discipline.

"The students who do well online are independent learners," Peery says. "You will do well if you are the kind of person who has the discipline to get online frequently, or you're someone who can sit and stay motivated and focused on their own."

On the other hand, if you tend to take several "study breaks" and work best when people push you, an online education could prove to be a more difficult fit.

"If a student needs a professor in front of them, needs reminders of due dates, or is easily distracted, it might not work as well," Peery says.

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Step #2 - Be Mentally/Technically Equipped

Online education requires students to have a specific set of tools in their learning toolbox. Reading and writing skills - which will likely be used in discussion boards, online readings, and homework assignments - are among them.

"Online learners need to be strong readers," Peery says. "So much of the online material is printed, and you also have a lot of mixed media and videos from professors."

Given the nature of online learning, having strong computer skills and a reliable Internet access can help you get the most out of an online education too.

"I find that students who have Internet access at home do better than students who use the Internet at other places," Peery adds.

Step #3 - Evaluate School Reputation and Accreditation

All online degree programs are not created equal, so it's a good idea to research whether or not a school has a trusted reputation and proper accreditation. One way you can do this is to check the U.S. Department of Education's website, which has an online database of accredited schools.

And there's good news for those in search of reputable online degrees. More schools nationwide are embracing online education, with 65 percent of colleges now saying that online learning is vital to their longtime strategy, according to "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011," a report by the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board.

What's more, an August 2010 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, titled "Hiring Practices and Attitudes: Traditional vs. Online Degree Credentials," found that 90 percent of employers view online degrees more favorably than they did five years ago, with 79 percent of organizations indicating that they had hired a job applicant with an online degree in the last 12 months.

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Step #4 - Look at Potential Career Opportunities

When mapping out a trip, it always helps to know where you want to go before you get there. When it comes to your education and career, you should have the same mindset and figure out what career goals you want to achieve from earning an online degree.

"Online education really provides open access to anybody who wants to go to school," Peery says. "It's for people who want to advance their career and make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. But people have to think about their purpose first."

Some questions to consider include:

  • Do I want to advance my career?
  • Do I need a resume boost?
  • Can an online degree lead to a well-paying career?
  • Do I want job security?

Depending on your professional goals, you can then determine what online degree and level is right for you.

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Step #5 - Break Down What the Degree Will Cost

In terms of dollars and cents, a college education - online or not - could be considered one of the most expensive investments you ever make. And if you think that you can get an online degree at a bargain price, you're likely mistaken.

According to a 2010 survey by the Campus Computing Project, 68 percent of private colleges and universities charge the same tuition for both online and on-campus courses. About 22 percent of these colleges charge higher fees for online courses.

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But there could be some built-in savings that can help you get the most from an online degree program.

Eliminating a need to commute to campus, an online education could save you money on gas, mileage, and parking permits.

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