Continuing education from home -- or distance learning -- started in the 1950s via public television. But those virtual classrooms are a far cry from the accredited, interactive, Web-based programs of today. Through the Internet, a motivated scholar can earn an associate's, bachelor's, master's and even a doctorate degree online.
The Internet plays host to scores of online universities, such as the University of Phoenix, which exist in both cyberspace and campus locations. Classes range from the basics, like English and math, to advanced graduate courses such as health care strategic management.
A basic search engine brings students basic information on these Web-based schools and their many programs. However, when considering a class, make sure to examine the school's accreditation credentials. Reputable Web-based and traditional colleges make these easy to spot.
In addition, a large number of traditional universities have active and growing distance-learning programs. The Associated Press reported in late 2006 that one in every six students enrolled in higher education took at least one online course the previous fall. The 40 percent growth that number represented seemed to alleviate fears that online course enrollment was leveling off. Many universities are continuing to invest heavily in online course offerings, the report said [source: USA Today].
Students can attend classes from the comfort of their home, though sometimes they must pick up study materials at the school or bookstore and travel to the university to take exams. Such institutions usually already are accredited and have offices where students can easily track down answers, giving prospective students less to worry about.
Just like cyberspace-based institutions, most brick-and-mortar colleges and universities make it easy for students to browse course listings and register for class. The University of Illinois, for example, created University of Illinois Online, a Web site that allows students to search for courses by subject area, keyword, level and other ways. It also allows students to register by acquiring a login ID and pin number and proceeding to an online registration form where the applicant types in basic identification, address and educational background and test scores information. The applicant also can choose to download the application, fill it out and mail it in to the university.
With research companies reporting growing numbers of students who plan to take online courses, Internet-based students can look forward to easier access, better selection and improved content in their online classrooms.
Check out the next page to find out about the variety of options available for continuing education.