The roots of today's online education environment started in the early 1950s. The University of Houston's KUHT-TV became the nation's first TV station to offer educational programming for class credit.
Technology improved, making two-way interactive distance learning possible. During the 1990s, the explosive growth of the home computer and the Internet opened up new horizons for the virtual classroom, culminating in today's online, interactive learning environment.
Almost any type of class can be found online. Many professional associations, such as the AMA, offer dozens of course titles. Clicking on a course title brings up detailed information about content, structure, requirements, fees and much more. In many cases, they also offer well-organized, detailed course descriptions.
During the course search, the prospective student learns about the minimum computer system requirements needed to enroll and participate in the class. While these requirements vary, course providers cater to commonly used hardware and software. High-speed Internet connections and up-to-date operating systems are recommended. Most courses use a combination of media delivery software such as QuickTime, Microsoft PowerPoint, RealPlayer and others, plus a variety of Web browser options.
Common search engines, such as Google, can help professionals locate online classes and the schools or organizations that provide them.
Ensuring accreditation is part of a continuing education student's course search effort. Finding and successfully completing an unaccredited course -- or one without the proper accreditation -- can be a waste of time and money.
As with anything on the Internet, you should maintain an appropriate level of skepticism. If you can't find a provider's credentials, ask for them. Also, always check with your specific licensing agency to ensure that any continuing education class you take -- online or traditional -- will meet accreditation standards.
Once you've found the appropriate, properly accredited course, you can register. On most online sites, this is an easy, multi-step process similar to a traditional school. You'll have to fill out identification and registration screens and submit them. You probably also will need to provide payment at this time, so have your credit card ready.