The Dirty (Half) Dozen - Exploding Six Myths About Online Education

Oct 10, 2011 by Tom Dellner

As might be expected in any groundbreaking field, a number of misconceptions have arisen regarding online higher education. Unfortunately, they do a great disservice to current and prospective students, alumni, hiring managers, and many others, all in addition to the institutions themselves.

Below, we de-bunk some of the most pervasive and pernicious myths associated with online education and distance learning.

Myth #1: Online higher education is less effective than that offered by traditional, brick-and-mortar universities, and offers an easy path to a degree.

A traditional universityReality: No and no. Regarding the efficacy of the online model, a recent U.S. Department of Education Report (“Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies”) states that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction.

Dr. Lewis Sanborne, a noted higher education expert who has consulted with online and traditional universities for more than 20 years, observes that “there are plenty of institutions that offer both online and face-to-face courses with the same examinations, and students in the online courses often outperform those in the traditional classroom setting. I have little doubt that the online learning medium can be extremely effective.”

And while online education does offer affordability, convenience, flexibility, and scores of other benefits, it is definitely not easy or unchallenging. CalSouthern’s degree programs are academically rigorous. Although many students find that they are able to work more efficiently via the online platform, if you are unable to commit to a regular, consistent study schedule, you’ll likely struggle in your degree program—online or off.

Myth #2: You can’t transfer credits or degrees from an online institution.

office of the registrarReality: This is an issue that underscores the importance of attending a university that is accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE). CalSouthern is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), which has been recognized by the USDOE as a reputable and reliable accrediting body since 1959.

The DEAC continually surveys its member institutions and their graduates to assess, among other things, the transferability and acceptance of a DEAC-accredited degree. According to a recent (2010) survey of graduates of DEAC-accredited institutions, of those graduates who sought to have their degree accepted by other academic institutions, approximately three in four were successful in transferring credits, dispelling the misconception that DEAC degrees and credits cannot be transferred. And, according to Michael Lambert, the Executive Director of the DEAC, this is a percentage that is trending upward.

Myth #3: Online education is mechanical and impersonal. Once you’re enrolled, you’re on your own.

Dean Sampong talks with a law school graduate
Dean Sampong talks with a law school graduate

Reality: As Dr. Sanborne notes, “The online learning environment is far more relational than most people expect. Just because it’s distant, it doesn’t mean it’s impersonal. I frequently hear faculty talk about getting to know students meaningfully on a personal level in an online environment. This is something that all students need to realize and think about intentionally: the online faculty and support providers—at least at the best online institutions—are there to help you holistically, and not just to get you to finish a certain number of modules by a particular date.”

At CalSouthern, our faculty doesn’t lecture to you. They mentor you on a one-on-one basis, guiding you through courses that have been designed and reviewed by teams of subject matter experts. Our mentors—who are not only instructors, but who are also leading practitioners in their fields—help you apply the concepts you learn to real-world scenarios that relate to your personal experiences and goals. It makes the material come to life, it makes it relevant, and it helps to make the concepts stick.

In addition, the moment you enroll at CalSouthern, you become a member of an entire community of support, comprised of faculty, fellow students and alumni, academic advisors, deans, and an entire university staff that judges its performance by your success.

Myth #4: You need to have technical expertise in order to succeed in online education.

Use of technology at CalSouthern is easy!Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth. CalSouthern’s online learning platform is designed to be intuitive and user-friendly—your level of technical proficiency will have no impact on your ultimate success in your degree program. Essentially, if you can attach a document to an email or post to a discussion board, you have all the required technical skills. And if you don’t, CalSouthern has a technical support team standing by to give you all the help you need, when you need it, via phone, email, chat, or video.

Myth #5: Online universities push students into maximizing federal financial aid, and enroll unqualified, under-prepared students just to profit from the federal aid money.

CalSouthern graduatesReality: There have been several instances of unscrupulous schools who have engaged in these and other unethical practices—they have been well documented in the media. However, no DEAC-accredited school has ever been associated with any of these scandals. In fact, according to the 2010 DEAC survey, 98 percent of graduates said that they received appropriate and accurate information about the school’s policies, procedures, costs, support services, etc., and 94 percent were so satisfied that they would recommend their degree program to a friend.

For its part, CalSouthern has taken a firm stand against such practices. In fact, we’ve chosen not to participate in federal financial aid programs, believing that they load students with too much debt and contribute to inflated tuition costs. CalSouthern offers an alternative: affordable tuition, coupled with no-interest payment options, in addition to a policy that locks in your tuition rate so that you can rest assured that your tuition will never increase as long as you maintain continuous enrollment.

Myth #6: Employers don’t value online higher education.

Reality: This simply isn’t true—and the data backs this up. Just last year, the DEAC conducted a survey of DEAC graduates’ work supervisors. It found that 85 percent of the supervisors believed that the graduate performed better on the job as a result of earning their DEAC-accredited online degree. Ninety-two percent said they were favorably inclined toward hiring or supervising other employees who earned degrees via distance education, while 94 percent stated that they would encourage others—subordinates or colleagues—to enroll in accredited distance-education degree programs in order to enhance their competence on the job. Another 93 percent of the supervisors found that the DEAC-school graduate compared favorably in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitude with other individuals they know or supervised who have earned comparable degrees from an “on-the-ground” college.

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