The range of distance learning programmes can be overwhelming. As distance learning is continuously gaining popularity this number is increasing steadily. This article gives an overview about important criteria for choosing a distance learning programme.
Only accredited and nationally recognised distance learning programmes lead to an academic degree and are accepted as such at your future employer. For this reason, it is very important to inform yourself carefully about the recognition of your distance learning programme. First of all, your desired study programme has to be accredited by a recognised accreditation agency.This agency investigates if the different subjects are combined and coordinated in a meaningful and sensible way that ensures academic standards as well as practical relevance of the study programme. The national recognition is usually done by the Ministry of Education or a similar authority. Note that there can be differences between countries. In Germany for example, the 18 states (Bundesländer) are independently responsible for the recognition of universities and their study programmes. Besides the accreditation and the national recognition there are other quality labels and certificates that can give an indication about the quality of the education.
One of the most important reasons for distance learning is the higher flexibility compared to a conventional on-campus programme. This is why distance learning enables you to combine your career with pursuing a degree more easily. However, there are various differences regarding the flexibility depending on which university and which distance learning programme you choose. When deciding for a distance learning programme you should therefore carefully inform yourself in order to make the best decision for you.Does the university have a fixed semester schedule or can you follow the programme more flexible? How often does the university have on-site attendance and are those fixed or flexible? Some distance learning universities offer several dates and locations for the compulsory on-site meetings, so that you can choose the ones that are most convenient for you. You should not underestimate that on-site meetings are often leading to high additional costs for travelling, accommodation and can take up a lot of your already scarce time. Ideally, the on-site meetings should match your work schedule and be close to your home to avoid long and expensive travel times.
3) Tuition fees
When choosing your distance learning programme, you should pay attention that you get good value for money. Distance learning programmes are usually a bit cheaper than study programmes on location. However, you should keep in mind that there might be extra costs such as for study material or travelling and accommodation costs for on-site meetings.
As studying besides your job can be quite demanding, you might want to consider reducing your working time from full-time to part-time. This gives you more time to focus on your studies but you have also to cope with a reduction of your income. In combination with high tuition fees, that can quickly lead to financial problems. Some distance learning institutions recognized this issue and offer suitable financing options. It is worth to take those into account when deciding for the right distance learning programme.
4) Personal support and service
The quality of personal assistance is a very important factor when choosing a distance learning programme and often decides about success or failure of your studies. Depending on your studies and the distance learning institution there can be major differences regarding the quality and kind of personal support provided. When can you reach the lecturers? Is it easy possible to arrange flexible personal appointments if needed? Is there personal support for the exercises and during the exam preparation? Are questions answered immediately or do you have to wait for an answer several days? All these factors have to fit your personal learning needs and preferences. Thereby, staying motivated is an important factor! If you are working full-time besides your studies, it is for example important that personal assistance is also offered in the evenings or at the weekend.
5) Study material and the digital learning environment
For distance learning education, the quality of the study material and the digital learning environment are even more important than for conventional studies. A motivating learning environment with diverse and interactive tasks, videos, quizzes etc. can improve your study success considerably. In order to stay in contact with your fellow students, many digital learning environments offer social platforms and a virtual campus that enable you to work together and support each other. Many distance learning institutions offer free test lectures. This can help you to get familiar with the different learning environments and to decide, which one fits best to your personal preferences.