How to Know If Online Education is Right for You

Online education programs are available from thousands of universities and institutes of education around the world on a wide range of topics.

Today’s students can choose from full university programs taught online that offer academic or professional degrees at completion to short-course options lasting just a few days offering certificates.

Online education programs have surged in popularity in recent years because of the many benefits they offer students. For example, enrollees in most online education programs can study from any location on a much more flexible schedule than that offered by traditional courses taught in person.

There are several types of online education programs available on the market today. Some courses are taught by established universities or colleges, while others are given by certified institutes of education by qualified instructors. Some programs allow 100% of the program to be completed over the internet, while others require that a certain number of hours or tests be completed on campus or at another valid location.

With a bit of research, finding the right online education program to meet your needs can be simple. While the prices of online education programs vary significantly from course to course, several free course options can also be found. Keep reading to learn more about common online education programs and how to find the right one to suit your needs.

Common Types of Online Education Programs

Like traditional forms of education taught in person, online education programs are available in multiple formats. It is helpful for students to think about the type of course or program they would like to enroll in to facilitate the search for the right program. The most common types of web-based education programs students can enroll in today include:

  • Online degree granting programs
  • Web-based certificate programs
  • Introductory level or specialization courses not granting credit
  • Credit-granting introductory level or specialization courses

Students today can choose to enroll in online programs that grant Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees completely or partially through the web. Universities, colleges and other accredited institutions of higher education can offer these types of courses for a degree accepted around the country.

Some programs can be completed 100% through the web, but many require students to complete some training, testing or instruction in person at an affiliated institution. The same basic eligibility requirements apply for students who would like to enroll in a web-based degree program as for those signing up for traditional course options.

Completing any type of academic or professional degree program will takes students at least a couple years, depending on the requirements of the specific program in question. Many students turn to shorter certificate granting programs if they are looking for a course of study that lasts a significantly shorter period of time but that still grants a certification of some sort. Several types of certificate programs exist, so students should look into what would be a useful qualification for the field they are working in.

Certificate programs are great for students who would like to gain expertise in another field that is connected to their own but not usually covered in depth. Like degree programs, certificate programs are taught around the country in a variety of formats.

For people looking to get an introductory to a new field or specialty, taking a general education course online may be the best option. These courses can be offered by any educational institution or team of experts in the industry who have qualified experience in the area. Unlike degree or certificate programs, online education courses in general do not need to be accredited by any specific organization or offer any sort of qualification.

Students should make sure that education programs with high price tags that do not offer a commonly accepted degree or certificate are worth the investment before signing up.

Similar types of online education programs are available to help professionals gain specialized qualifications in their field. Several schools and institutions of education, for example, offer completely web-based programs to learn new engineering and computer science tools through short-courses.

Sometimes these programs will offer the student a transferable certificate, but often these courses are intended to simply provide a knowledgeable professional with more training and information about a different area of his or her field.

Accreditation and Reviews of Online Education Programs

With the proliferation of education technology and an understanding of how to best use digital tools, the quality of online education programs has increased greatly in the last decade.

Today, students can find hundreds of online education programs that hold the same accreditation by state governments and national academic organizations that traditional education programs do. However, students interested in online education do have to look out for online education programs that are of poor quality, lacking the accreditation they claim to have or simply overpriced.

The now defunct Trump University, for example, has been in the news recently because its web-based programs were found to fall way short of institutional promises and its students did not receive the training or qualifications they expected. As a result, the company has been shut down amidst multiple class-action lawsuits from defrauded students.

To make sure any given online education program is accredited as promised, students should visit the website of the national accrediting organization that supposedly validated the organization. All of these groups allow interested parties to confirm the accreditation of an institution in one format or another. Specific certificate programs and academic departments also receive accreditation and can be validated.

Students are also encouraged to complete a basic web search to learn about the program’s reputation and reviews from teachers and former students. If very little information can be found on a program that has supposedly been around for a few years, there may be a problem. Online education programs that offer degrees and qualified certificates must be accredited by the U.S. Department of Education or the nonprofit Council for Higher Education (CHEA).

How to Know if Online Education is Right for You

There are several pros and cons to signing up for an online education program over a traditional course taught in person. For the majority of online students, web-based programs are the preferred choice because they allow them to study on their own schedule from the comfort of their own home or office.

For others, the ability to attend a course taught by a school or institution that is thousands of miles away makes online courses the obvious choice. Non-traditional students especially can gain a lot from online education programs.

Online education may not be the best choice for all students. For students who have difficulty managing their own time or focusing on content without being in an interactive, group setting may not maximize their learning potential in an online program. In addition, students studying certain disciplines may gain more from a teaching environment that includes hands-on demonstrations and training.

While there can be a price difference between traditional and web-based education programs, the difference is usually nominal between comparable courses.

How to Find Free Online Education Programs

There are hundreds if not thousands of free online education programs that students living in the U.S. and around the world can sign up for. Many of these programs are completely free of charge or only request a fee to take the course’s final exam.

There are fewer free degree-granting programs than other types of online education options, but students in some industries can earn entire academic degrees by studying online at no cost. More programs offer certificates or comparable qualifications for free or at low costs. Many unaccredited basic information courses can be taken for free online.

Even the big-name universities offer a selection of online courses free to the public at large. For example, Harvard University regularly offers its course on computer science basics for free online. Through this program, students can learn about algorithms and the foundations of programming while becoming familiar with popular programming languages like HTML and CSS. Students taking this course must pay at $90 fee to register for the final course exam and to receive a verified certificate of completion from Harvard.

Another example of a great online course that students can enroll in for free if the University of Washington’s Public Speaking class. In this course, students learn about the fundamentals of speaking in front of others and the best ways to become an effective and influential public speaker. This course can be completed in ten weeks.

Law students may be excited to learn about the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s free online course “Law for the Entrepreneur and Manager”. This course is intended for students who are already working towards a law degree and can be completed in less than a week.

How to Choose the Best Online Education Program for You

Choosing which online education program is best for your needs can be done by thinking about your specific educational priorities and looking into the various options available in your field. Once you are sure that online courses exist in your area of interest that could help you reach your professional, academic or personal goals, find out what the eligibility requirements are for enrolling students.

Make sure you fit the bill and will benefit from the type of training and material you will receive from taking the course. Don’t forget to check the school’s accreditation if you are seeking a degree or certificate. Before making a final decision on a program, shop around for comparable courses to get the best price.