Online Education: Is it Right for You?

(ARA) - Like many students, Don Spivey spends his day waiting for the bell to ring. But for Spivey, the bell doesn’t mark the end of school; it marks the beginning of work. Spivey, 35, is the Fire Captain of the Gastonia, N.C., fire department, and the school he attends is entirely online.

In May, Spivey will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Communication degree from Jones International University ( With his schedule -- 24-hour shifts and living at the station for a week each month -- there is no way Spivey could have continued his education at a conventional, site-based university.

Over the past four years, Gastonia’s fire captain has spent his down time at the station and at home working toward his goal: a college degree. Now, with graduation imminent, Spivey is contemplating his eligibility for higher-ranking positions within the department, such as Battalion Chief or Training Chief.

Today, such aspirations are within the reach of many working adults who, like Spivey, have turned to the convenience of online education. In fact, according to research firm Eduventures, Inc., online education enrollments in the United States should top 1 million in 2005.

However, while the Internet has made continuing education possible for those who would otherwise not have the opportunity, there are some questions to consider:

What is the online learning experience like?

Is it right for me?

Can I get a good education from an online university?

* The Experience

Online learning is probably different from what you would expect. Everything involved, from course registration to ordering books, submitting assignments, talking with teachers and fellow students, and accessing your student records, is done online.

To better understand the online learning experience, try taking a walk in Don Spivey’s shoes as a student at Jones International University. To begin, Spivey talked to an enrollment counselor, registered for his first course and ordered his books. He was then directed to orientation where he was walked through how to navigate within his courses, manage his time, and create a personal profile to introduce himself to his teachers and fellow students.

On the first day of Spivey’s course, he logged in to the course home page, where he was given a course overview, including its learning outcomes and objectives. He would then click on the “Week One” tab for a course syllabus, which provided his first week’s assignments. This usually involved what he was to read that week, both in the book or books for the course and online reading. Also made available to him was a “Resources” tool for additional information on that week’s course of study.

If he needed to conduct research for his course, Spivey had access to a fully online library that featured annotated research guides, in-depth Internet and government resources, and 24/7 online help available from a reference librarian.

Next stop: the Forum, the “gathering place” for students. This is where Spivey participated in instructor-directed discussions, collaborated with fellow students, and sometimes posted his course work. It is also where he could add his comments to class discussions at any time of the day or night, since Forum contains threaded discussions that do not take place in real time. For live discussions, Spivey would visit the Chat room to exchange ideas with other students or his instructor.

Spivey’s course assignments were normally due at the end of each week, and his instructor could ask him to post his assignment in the Group Workspace, e-mail it directly to him or her, or even post it in the Forum for discussion.

To see his grades on the assignments he submitted, Spivey simply clicked on “GradeBook.” This is also where his final grade for the course was posted, as well as his running grade point average as he worked toward his degree.

With the exception of the one-time Orientation session, this was Spivey’s routine as he enrolled in and completed each of his courses.

* The Fit

If you are thinking about pursuing an online degree, but don’t know if it’s right for you, here are a few more questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you ready for the time commitment? Online students usually devote 12-15 hours per week to a course. Some of the more rigorous courses can take 20 hours.

2. Do you have a computer with access to the Internet and e-mail? There are also minimum technical requirements that vary from school to school. If you have a computer with a good processor and adequate memory, this shouldn’t be a problem for you, but always check with the school first.

3. Besides having the appropriate technology, are you comfortable using it? As an online student you need to be proficient in word processing software and email. You also need to be able to send and receive files.

4. Are you able to learn independently? Online courses are highly interactive and you will communicate with your teaching faculty and classmates consistently, but you need to be motivated to complete assignments on your own.

For a professional evaluation of your aptitude for online learning, take a free, online quiz. Developed by education portal, the assessment takes only seven minutes and can be accessed at

* The Quality

Concerns about the quality of online education today, as compared to classroom instruction, seem generally unfounded. According to a 2002-2003 study by the Sloan Consortium, when asked to compare learning outcomes in online courses with those of face-to-face instruction, academic leaders put the two on very close terms, and expect online offerings to continue to improve relative to the face-to-face option.

Specifically, the Sloan study showed that a majority of academic leaders (57 percent) believe that the learning outcomes for online education are equal to or superior to those of traditional instruction. Perhaps more compelling, nearly one-third of the same academic leaders expect learning outcomes for online education to exceed those of face-to-face instruction in three years; nearly three-quarters expect learning outcomes for online education to be equal to or better than face-to-face instruction.

To learn more about Jones International University, visit or call (800) 811-5663.

Courtesy of ARA Content

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