Friday, June 24, 2011

Web-Based Education and the Obsolete Four-Year Degree

By Lindsey Wright

The traditional structure of a four-year degree program is one with which all college-bound students are familiar. Yet with the growing reliance on technology in today’s society, such a rigid program may no longer be necessary. Completing part or all of a college degree online is now a viable option as more and more schools embrace the innovations of Web-based education.

The Future of the Four-Year Degree

The idea that a degree program must be completed in four years is slowly becoming obsolete. As the prices of gasoline, food and other basic commodities rise, more people are finding it necessary to work in order to sustain themselves through college. If you’re in such a situation, you may discover that you need more than four years to tackle the courses necessary for your degree.

On the other hand, some students work at a faster pace than that set by their professors. People with a true passion for their major may wish to move more quickly and finish their degree ahead of time. Likewise, some high school students may want to consider taking additional classes at an online school so they can complete prerequisite courses while they are still in their junior and senior years of high school. This allows gifted young people more leeway in their studies when they officially begin college.

Web-based courses may also help solve another problem that all students face when heading into a four-year degree program. As Will's recent post “The Outdated Academy” mentions, most traditional college degrees include a number of liberal arts classes and other non-major courses as part of the requirements for completion. In many cases these classes take up a great deal of time, money, and energy that could be better devoted to coursework that actually applies to a student’s major.

By utilizing online classes, both students and the colleges they attend can turn the traditional four-year degree into something more focused and streamlined. If colleges turned to internet-based classes to fulfill the current requirements for general subjects, the whole landscape of degree programs could change. Students could use their time on campus to focus solely on classes that are relevant to their majors while fulfilling general requirements online. This would allow for a more targeted approach to studying that immerses students in their major right from the start.

Making Online Courses Work for You

Undoubtedly, the advent of web-based education enables the process of obtaining a degree to become more streamlined than in years past. Even better, there are many options when learning online. In addition to combining online courses with traditional ones, students may also be able to opt to pursue a degree entirely online in order to better fit their daily schedules. This is especially helpful for people returning to college later in life who may have to juggle school with a family and a full-time job.

Whatever course of action students take, web-based learning can help them achieve their academic goals on their terms. Students truly committed to a four-year degree can use the flexibility of online learning to fit the experience to their needs and interests. Rather than spending the majority of their time on campus stuck in general education classes, students should investigate whether they can get the basics out of the way online. This gives them a way to finish liberal arts requirements outside of their daily college schedules, freeing up time for courses that are truly of interest and that will help them move more quickly towards the completion of their majors.

Web-based college courses are changing the way that college students of all ages approach their degrees. Although it may be awhile before some traditional institutions embrace the idea of a flexible, web-enhanced degree program, the landscape of college education will no doubt continue to change as technologically-based approaches to learning grow and evolve. Whether your schedule requires you to take a little extra time to finish a four-year degree or you’re itching to finish coursework in less time, online education can offer the necessary tools.

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

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