Distance Learning Graduate Degrees Receive High Approval Ratings
But is a distance degree as good as an old-fashioned residential graduate degree?
Two independent research studies have compared distance learning MBA students to their residential peers. Both studies have found more
similarities than differences between groups in learner satisfaction and educational outcomes.
Researchers at Colorado State’s AACSB-accredited business school compared distance students to their campus counterparts and to executive MBA cohort students on 12 specific competencies. Since all groups took virtually the same curriculum, with many having the same instructors, with the same AACSB-accredited degree awarded at conclusion, the school sought to determine if delivery method alone made any significant difference. All students were being awarded the same degree, but were they all really
receiving the same education?
At degree conclusion, all 3 groups self-reported higher scores on 7 of the 12 outcomes. Distance students self-reported higher scores than the campus group on 3 measures: technology, quantitative skills, and theory skills.
Distance students reported higher measures on technology than the executive MBA group. Mark Kretovics and Jim McCambridge, the study’s authors, concluded: “…the results not only support the notion that distance learning
is effective, but they also challenge the ‘no significant difference’ research findings by indicating that distance students may, in fact, learn more than the traditional classroom based students.”
In 2001 Canada’s largest distance learning university, Athabasca, released the results of a study that compared their non-residential MBA students to on-campus learners at the highly-regarded University of Western Ontario’s
Richard Ivey School of Business. The study looked at several levels of learning: social, procedural, explanatory, and cognitive.
The results: online learning allows for greater explanatory and cognitive learning, whereas residential study accentuates and improves social and procedural learning. Athabasca operates Canada’s largest and fastest growing executive MBA program. The university served more than 1,100 MBA students in 2001, all at-a-distance.
Vicky Phillips, CEO of GetEducated.com, LLC summarizes the research to date: “Asking which is better, brick and mortar or virtual venues, may be akin to asking which is better, Ford or Chevy? The answer is that some people may prefer or require one over the other. Each delivery method may simply enhance or accentuate different but equally valuable skill sets.”
Reaction Evaluation Public Acceptance
What about how people “feel” about distance degrees? Does the
public accept them? More importantly, will your boss feel a distance degree
represents an inferior education? Clearly, the empirical evidence indicates
otherwise; but many people are not yet familiar with the research.
According to Phillips, distance learning suffers from a long history of non-regionally accredited providers offering degrees via magazine clip-out
coupons. The existence of diploma mills, unaccredited colleges that crank out diplomas, continues to cast a long shadow on all forms of non-residential learning.
GetEducated.com began surveying employers and distance learning students on these questions in 1989. Thirteen years of research indicates two solid trends. First, public acceptance of distance degrees has increased steadily. The years since 1996 have brought a sharp increase in level of acceptance. “This appears to be related to the rise of the Internet as a delivery method,” interprets Phillips. “Americans trust the Internet and therefore tend to trust degrees delivered this way more than those delivered by older technologies such as cable TV and mail correspondence.”
A sharp rise in the number of established brick and mortar educational institutions that offer distance degrees has also heightened public
acceptance. Provided an institution is accredited by a recognized agency, greater than 85% of those GetEducated.com surveyed in 2001 believed that
quality should not be an issue.
Corporate managers are more conservative than the public in their assessment of distance degrees. In 2000 surveys performed by GetEducated.com, 79% rated a distance degree “as good as” a residential option. (Up from under 50% in 1989). “However,” remarks Phillips, “this
approval rating surpasses 90% when the name of the institution offering the degree is immediately recognizable to the prospective employer.”
“This last factor is important. It indicates that while distance learning allows people to study from institutions headquartered all over the word, wider acceptance may come from attending what we have termed Backyard Brands™,” reports Phillips, “residential colleges whose reputations are firmly established in the geographic area where the student currently lives
Distance brands, tied to large public university systems, such as California State University, The University of Maryland, and Indiana
University, tend to receive high approval marks (90% or more) regardless of the assessor’s state of residency.
Institutions that lack a brick-and-mortar legacy earn the lowest approval marks. “People are waiting for a new generation of “Internet Only”
universities to prove themselves, reports Phillips. “They tend not to trust universities that operate distance-learning programs only. While Americans generally love new products and services, higher education is one area
where historical longevity breeds consumer trust and confidence.”
GetEducated.com’s Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools, Business & Management 2003 http://www.geteducated.com/bdlgs_bm.htm<
GetEducated.com’s Best Distance Learning Graduate Schools, Technology 2003 http://www.geteducated.com/bdlgs_ed.htm
The No Significant Difference Phenomenon: As Reported in 355 Research Reports, Summaries and Papers
By Thomas Russell http://teleeducation.nb.ca/nosignificantdifference/
Measuring MBA Student Learning: Does Distance Make a Difference? By Mark Kretovics and Jim McCambridge International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, October 2002
GetEducated.com FAQ: College Accreditation and Distance Degrees
GetEducated.com’s Virtual University Gazette http://www.geteducated.com/vugaz.htm Free newsletter that announces new accredited distance degree programs and online learning hot spots.To subscribe, send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2003 GetEducated.com, LLC. A copy of this article is permanently archived
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