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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Value of an Online Degree

Related to my recent post about eLearning Certifications, someone went back through some of my older related posts such as eLearning Certification, Online Degrees Get No Respect and particularly: Lower Value of Online Degree Programs and asked:  

I am curious, now that things have changed over the last three years, where do you stand with online degrees, specifically, WSAC (regionally) accredited online PhD degrees?

Don't you think that a person with an accredited PhD and has real world experience should be a top candidate versus a PhD who has been going to school for the last 10 years?

It’s great to have someone willing to call you out.  They are likely referencing my statement back in 2006:

I personally hire mostly folks with undergraduate degrees and mostly they are technical. I look at the individual first and foremost - but that said - I definitely am looking for an undergraduate degree from an in-person program first and foremost. For graduate programs, I probably have less of a bias and I would value an online graduate degree from a bigger name higher than an in-person from a local, lesser name program. That said, I still would value the in-person higher than the online for the same university. Given my passion around distance learning, it's a bit weird to admit this bias. But, I wonder if this isn't shared and that people should be aware of it?

My thinking has definitely changed over the past few years, but if I’m being honest, I still value an in-person degree a little bit higher.  But look closely.  If going for an online degree allows you to attend a better program, then that ranks higher than a lower quality but local degree. 

Also the person asking the question also asked about “real world experience” combined with a degree, e.g., a PhD.  Of course, that’s going to come in above someone who has no real world experience.   And since a lot of people who are doing online degrees are also working, there’s a lot to be said for finding a quality program online and attending while you are working.

In our field, that may have even higher value as the experience of having attended a quality online program likely will give you a leg up.  As an example take a look at: Discussion Forums for Knowledge Sharing at Capital City Bank.  Becky really learned how to have effective online discussions by going through a great experience herself.

All that said – my guess is that there’s still bias – even three years later.

What do you think?


Allison said...

It depends, don't you think.

I admit that I wasn't all that keen on the online graduate programs until I taught in ours at SDSU. When you really focused on the design of the course, on the interactions and expectations, well, it worked. And I measured it. I gathered data and it stood up to comparison with the parallel campus class I was teaching. In fact, I brought the students together in work groups.

Online and on campus, effectiveness hails from same places, none of which would surprise us: high value outcomes; clear expectations; instructor focus and caring; feedback; interactivity; connections to the work; conversations; collaborations; and so on and so forth. That can happen-- and not happen-- online and on campus.

My Treehouse - Adoption Through the Eyes of a Child said...

I understand your bias though I would say it is not founded in experience. Have you been in an online program? My bachelors degree and masters degree are from well established in-person institutions. My doctorate is from a well established online university. The most difficult program was my doctorate for many reasons. When you are in an in- person class, you can participate but in many cases other than law school, you aren't asked to cite or justify your comments with much validity. In an online program, you are required to cite every response, every contribution. In addition, in an online environment, you are required to participate regularly (6 out of 7 days each week) where normally, in person participation is more spontaneous or when called upon. We had individual papers, presentations, group papers, and group presentations. We had learning teams where we worked with people from around the world via teleconference and asynchronous communication. At my online university, the professors are all PHD educated and with real world experience. That is an added value as some in person professors have no real world experience. The online institutions have to be more rigid to meet certifications.

I would say my experience online was MORE rigorous than my in person experience. That said...

At the same time, I understand and value the in person exchange. My online university requires us to meet for a class once per year in person. That I valued as it cemented my online relationships.

Now lets talk the real many if not most large corporations, the online university mimics the corporate environment. A large portion of corporate activity; especially a global corporation, is done via teleconference and asynchronous communication. This would tend to support an online educational environment as well. Preparing the student for a real world work experience. Keep in mind that online educations are not just Web-based training modules. They are interactive exchanges via email, chat, forums, and more.

My online university also had dissertations ranked in the top dissertations in the country across online and in person universities.

In closing, I value an in person education as well as an online education. Both have merit. Both have value. In my opinion, hiring a person from an in person university over a person from an online university is prejudice out of ignorance of the programs.

The world is changing and we all need to move along the progression versus getting stuck in old paradigms. I say this respectfully.

David Andrade said...

I think online degrees are like in-person degrees - they vary in quality.

I did a masters in management at an in-person program at a high ranked university and a online masters in education from one of the major online universities. The online program was harder, more thought-provoking, better organized, and an overall better program.

Just like anything, there are no absolutes.

Unknown said...

I chose to do an online program in order to better put myself in the shoes of online learners -- to walk a mile, so to speak -- as well as because I really had limited choice in local access to an in-person program (I live rurally).

The program was offered in both a face to face version as well as the online version, and in most of my online classes there were participants who had experienced the in-person approach -- and the near unanimous opinion, it seemed, was than the online versions of the courses required more work.

In terms of a hiring bias, practical experience weighs much more strongly for me when screening job candidates - it's critical to know that the potential hire has the experience - scars and all -- to carry out the job.

Emily said...

Just last night in my master’s Instructional Communication seminar, we got into a semi-heated debate over the value of online versus in-person degree programs, specifically masters and PhD. We discussed all of the points that others have been bringing up in their posts. However, one thing I think we all failed to consider is the professor perspective. Ultimately, we all attend higher education to learn. Who do we learn from? We learn from the professor. Whether or not a program is rigorous in course work only accounts for a small portion of a program’s value. The majority of a program’s value comes from the professors who are teaching and the student’s who are participating in the seminars. Without a motivated professor, what is the course left with? A professor brings a lot to a program – especially at the master’s and PhD level – that cannot be ignored. I guess my point, like other people, is that it is less about the type of program – in person or online – but more about what the program can offer. I think the value of these programs should be based on credibility and credibility stems from professors including their published work and real world experience, but also who the students are and how they engage with the material.

Tony Karrer said...

Fantastic comments! I'm loving the exchange.

It depends seems to be the common answer here.

What's interesting about that is that we generally have a sense of the strength of in-person programs based on reputation and our experience with graduates, etc. At some point online programs will have the same.

And saying "prejudice out of ignorance of the programs" - is pretty much correct. I'm (and a lot of people are) ignorant about the programs. This will naturally change over time.

Allison and Emily - good points about expectations, instructors/professors, etc.

Paul Schneider said...

In reading the comments it made me think back to the fact that every program is different. I attended a school with a great reputation and did it face to face. I think of all the experiences I gained from being a Research and Graduate assistant as well as just being around and interacting with students from different programs. The whole immersion aspect. I also worked with a number of distance programs there (support - not as a student) and one of the problems with these programs was that they tended to cater to the students having a family, job etc. outside of school. Not a bad thing in principle, but the result was that the programs were a lot less rigorous. However, as many others noted that is NOT always the case. In some instances it could be the opposite. Guess it comes down to the quality of that program delivered in that modality. I've certainly seen easier programs (and at my university) that were face to face so it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine that some online degree programs could be a step above some face to face ones as well.

DegreeFinders said...

Do you think you might be missing out on great employees because of the bias? Many students who chose online do so because they can't quit on their responsibilities to attend campus classes. Or maybe there isn't a campus with the program they need within their city or a nearby one. I personally think the value should be placed on the person, not on the way they chose to pursue their education.

etechnology said...

This post is really good.Since this post is regarding to me as a graduate so i what to say thanks for sharing this post with me

Anonymous said...

I think that there will always be a basis with online education but the same time employers will contradict that as well because they would rather hire someone with experience and a degree. I feel that learning face to face in class and working closely with your peers is great and beneficial. I am learning more and more to work with a diverse group of people and have the opportunity interact with my professors if I need too. The down side to being in school oppose to taking classes online I am not getting the work experience that I desire and need for most position that I would like to apply too. Therefore, I live through my professors or some peer’s real life work experience in the field that I want to get into. I have an advantage but at the same time, I have the disadvantage not having experience outside of class. The great thing about online education is that there are a lot more university that is well-known integrating to online education. From my opinion by time 2020, I think every university including big names like Harvard, Yale, Columbia and others are going to have full degree programs online.

eashan said...

The growing popularity of online courses is undeniable, with online enrollment currently growing at a fast pace. There are many number of students currently involved in distance or online learning. And in today's increasingly connected world, this number continues to grow, and at a faster rate.