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A Guide to Distance Education for Service Members

Whether you call it online learning, e-learning or distance study, Distance Education is education in which the student and the professor communicate with each other outside a classroom setting from a distance. Today, most distance education courses are facilitated over the Internet and rely heavily on email. In some cases, they may also make use of course-specific software, videotapes, CDs or DVDs.

The draw of distance education for military members is the convenience, flexibility and cost savings. According to a survey published by the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2000-2001 academic year, college-level, credit-granting distance education courses were offered by 55 percent of all 2-year and 4-year institutions, versus only 34 percent in 1997-1998.

Many schools offer distance education, but not every program is the same. If you are considering Distance Education, do your research to make sure you invest your time and money on a program that is the best fit for you. Key factors to consider as you evaluate which program meets your needs are accreditation, course delivery method, student services, instructor accessibility and quality, and cost.


Accreditation is an important factor to think about when considering any college or university. Accreditation indicates that a school has met predetermined quality standards. To meet these standards, the school must operate on a sound financial basis and have qualified instructors, adequate facilities and equipment. The institution must have an approved program of study and approved recruitment and admissions policies. Look for an institution that has been accredited by agencies that are recognized by The US Department of Education.

Course Delivery

Distance Education courses are offered in different formats: synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination of the two. Choose the format that best fits your learning style and your schedule.

Synchronous education means that, although teachers and students are physically separated,  learning and teaching takes place at the same time. For example, students and teachers may have to log in at a specific time for an online lecture.

With asynchronous education, learning and teaching takes place at different times. Students complete coursework at their own pace and are not required to log in at set times. The instructor prepares the course material in advance and the student is free to decide when to study.

Student Services

Even though you are not on a campus, your school should still provide exceptional student services. Look for a school that provides you with an academic adviser or representative to answer questions and provide support, a resource center and library, a technical support desk, and an online student forum such as a message board or chat room.

Instructor Accessibility and Quality

Your instructors should at least be knowledgeable in their course subjects and have a reputation for being responsive to student questions. Research your instructors’ education and work history. Many distance education schools provide access to their instructors by email and phone.


The cost of distance education can vary greatly from institution to institution and from degree program to degree program. Some factors to consider are: tuition and fees, books and/or class materials, and software and shipping. Some distance learning institutions include all of these additional costs in their tuition.

How do you know if distance education is right for you?

Consider the following questions:

  • How much flexibility does your schedule require?
  • Do you learn better independently or in a group setting?
  • How do you feel about taking courses via the Internet?
  • Do you need face-to-face student – teacher interaction?
  • Would you rather study at home or in a classroom?

If you need a flexible schedule and cannot commit to spending time in a classroom and you would rather study independently from home, then distance education may be right for you.

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