Step by Step: Exploring Distance Education

By Susan Biagi

Learning without borders

It wasn’t so long ago that “correspondence” courses were advertised on matchbooks, or in the last few pages of comic books.

The industry has certainly come a long way since then. Today’s student has a wealth of high-quality, distance-education courses on offer. These are also known as “online courses,” since most are delivered via the Internet.

Distance-education offers many benefits to the student, the first of which is cost. Although tuition is not significantly lower than that of classroom-based courses, distance-education offers significant savings in cost of living. Students who study from home avoid the high cost of living in residence, or moving from one city to another.

Another benefit of distance-education courses is that they’re not limited to BC. The cost is comparable whether the course is delivered from Kamloops or from St. John’s, Newfoundland. Clearly, this provides students with a wider range of choices than would otherwise be available to them. The key is making sure, in advance, that potential employers recognize the course as valid training for their workplace.

One question that students may ask is, “Are distance education courses any less valid than those delivered on campus?” The answer is “no.” What counts is the quality of the institution issuing the diploma. A diploma from the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) carries the same weight whether the training is delivered in the classroom or online.

How does one choose a distance-education course? Most colleges and universities deliver both “credit” and “non-credit” courses. Credit courses generally result in a certificate, diploma, or degree. Non-credit courses, also known as continuing-education courses, do not provide certification of any kind. They can, however, provide the student with skills that are highly valued in the workplace.

Students considering distance-education courses can now choose from a host of high-quality institutions. An early innovator in the field—the Open Learning Agency—is now a division of Thompson River University, delivering everything from individual courses to degrees. For more information, consult its website at http://www.tru.ca.

An easy way to access the offerings of individual institutions is to consult Career Link’s education page at http://www.careerlinkbc.com/education.html. On the right-hand-side of the page is a list of all publicly funded colleges and universities in BC. After choosing a specific institution’s website, simply type “distance education” into the keyword search box. For non-credit courses, type “continuing education.”

Expect to spend quite a lot of time exploring the options. Incredibly, even training as a

pharmacy technician or embalmer can be delivered online! Students enrolled in courses that require hands-on learning begin by studying theory over the Internet, then follow up with a practicum delivered at the workplace of local employers.

Students considering distance-education can also choose from a wider variety of instructional techniques than those available in the past. Thanks to changing technology, online courses are now highly interactive, offering audio, video, chat rooms, and even instructor-led courses delivered in real time.

While checking each institution’s website is an effective way to sift through courses, it can be slow and labourious. To help speed the process along, Career Link’s education page contains a number of links designed to help a student search a number of institutions at once. These links are all located under the “Distance Education” heading. Clicking on “Find a Distance Education Program or School,” for example, provides access to Schoolfinder.com. From there, in the box beside “Find a Program,” students can simply type in their field of interest. Typing “health care” will result in a number of offerings.

Those who require help exploring distance-education options are invited to book some one-on-one time with a Career Link employment consultant, or attend a workshop. Call us at 604.485.7958. It’s easy and it’s free!

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