Within the last 25 years, online education has expanded into a universe of its own. In many cases, it has developed into full-fledged learning option as opposed to simple extensions of already existing higher education programs. With traditional brick-and-mortar institutions now charging ahead and outpacing for-profit schools, distance education remains strong as it continues to offer potential learners unique benefits well into the 21st century.
The Origins of Online Learning
Most are surprised to learn that distance education’s roots are traced back to the 19th century. Forbes Online described the correspondence school phenomenon of the 1890s, with some experiments in learning by radio and television conducted in the United Kingdom while such programs remained strictly pen-and-paper in the United States. It’s no surprise that electronically access revolutionized some correspondence degrees in the 1990s. However, many standard colleges and universities failed to get on board at first, not understanding the Internet’s potential and declining to leverage it as a learning platform to serve nontraditional and distance students.
For-Profits Skyrocket, Only to Take a Nosedive
While some universities were innovative in seizing online education as opportunities, most lagged behind as for-profit schools quickly implemented the platform in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, these entities soon began to see a downturn. Lack of focus on product development was cited by Forbes as a cause. Moreover, questions about the value of degrees earned and unwanted legal attention have affected the industry, as reported in 2016 by the New York Times.
Traditional Universities Jump Ahead of the Pack Meanwhile, higher education institutions with strategically-built distance education programs have reaped gains in both enrollment and reputation. They continue offering stellar-quality curricula in nearly every field of study. For example, the University of Southern California offers a Master of Public Administration degree through itsUSC Online platform. Schools continue to serve both public and private sector professionals, tooling programs with deep industry knowledge and critical concepts to help learners stay competitive. Real-world examples are included in coursework, such as USC Online discussing the history of white collar crime in its Master of Laws (LLM) program.
Entrance Procedures for Prospective Learners
The process of applying to a distance learning degree program is not unlike that of standard courses of study. Most schools require transcripts for any previous coursework or degrees, as well as letters of recommendation and entrance essays. Some institutions may require submission of graduate exam scores with the application. Finally, it's important to research available financial aid options. Federal funding is often available for many matriculants, and some working professionals may choose to tap into their employers' tuition reimbursement options.
Live and Online Schooling Both Continue Into the Future
Many institutions continue to deliver live classroom learning and distance education programs. Some curricula combine the two to effectively transmit their content, while many courses of study may be offered primarily through online learning platforms to serve the needs of working professionals, out-of-state students and others who need to access schooling online. As traditional universities march forward with this mix of live and online learning programs, both channels are expected to grow and development well into the future.