Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 4:52 am | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 

Continuing Education Online: Is Cyber-School For You?

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A great education can be as close as your fingertips. But before you enroll, here are some questions to ask yourself.

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So you want to get that promotion. Or perhaps you’re finally getting around to taking that course you’ve always wanted to. Or maybe you want a new career entirely.

It’s never been easier to expand your mind and your wallet. If you’ve got a good Internet connection and a little bit of time, continuing education need only be as far away as your fingertips.

“Anyone with access to the Internet can learn how to assemble a bicycle, negotiate a job offer, be a better romantic partner, or learn how to make homemade ice cream using liquid nitrogen,” said Don Lubach, who’s led more than two dozen Adult Ed courses for both UCSB’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program and SBCC’s Continuing Education.

“There’s a literal feast of information available online."

According to Lubach, we live in arguably the best community for adult education. We probably don’t need to go online to get great classes, particularly if we like sharing the learning experience with other people, or we need hands-on training. But for those of us who may not have the time or the ability to shuttle across town, getting an online degree or certificate may be the most convenient and cheapest way to go.

But, type “continuing education” into your favorite search engine and what do you get? Pages upon pages of different sites that promise you a good education for your money and time. Before you put your electronic signature, your time and your cash on the line, there are some things to consider.

First, what kind of education do you need? Any online education veteran will tell you that shopping for a school on the Internet is no different than shopping for a school in real life. Do you need a degree from an accredited institution? Then check out places like The Council For Higher Education Accreditation, a Washington organization that monitors the academic quality of educational institutions in the United States and abroad. That way you know whether you’re dealing with a worthy institution that will get you ahead or a diploma mill that won’t get you anywhere. Or, you can check out Education Portal, a site that offers a comprehensive search for online degrees.

Some of the more reknowned universities like Tufts, Carnegie-Mellon and MIT offer free online classes, said Lubach, whose favorite happens to be Stanford‘s. While you can’t get a degree for attending a free course, you might be able to satisfy your curiosity about the Middle Ages, for instance, or astrophysics.

If you’re looking for a simple “how-to” education, Lubach recommends instructables.com, a user-driven site that will teach you everything from how to give pills to your cat to how to trick out your iPod with a Bluetooth attachment.  But, all you need to do is google “how to” and you’ll get a variety of sites that will show you tips and tricks to make your day-to-day life easier. Lifehacker.com is another popular site.

“When you view a training video on a site like instructibles.com, keep in mind that there’s no ‘Dean of Instruction’ vetting all of the classes," he said. "So your dream creation might not come out as expected."

After you’ve picked your institution, or Web site, you’d also do well to consider if you’re up to the challenge of online learning.  One major difference between hands-on and online, of course, is that you’re not in a classroom full of people. Can you handle the isolation, or the distractions? Are you ready to collaborate with others online? Do you have the necessary technology and computer skills?

“If they offer a sample course, you can view it and the professor won’t even know if you walk out,” Lubach said.

Potential learners should also consider the amount of time they’re willing to spend on the computer.  Some courses move at a fast clip, just like a regular class. Others are self-directed, with the capability of moving as quickly, or as slowly as the student wishes. The caveat for these kinds of courses is that the less disciplined students can easily fall by the wayside and never even finish.

With online learning getting more respect and better technology, it’s easy to see a future where top-notch education is only as far as your laptop. Who knows, maybe someday, we’ll be seeing Lubach’s own courses online.

"As an adult education instructor, I would love the opportunity to extend my classes out into the world using this widely available technology," he said.

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