In some small ways not directly related to the rigor of coursework in an online program, distance learning degree programs are easier. Logistically, there’s a lot less to manage in terms of travel and scheduling – which, in real life, can also mean changing work schedules and even jobs, finding and paying for childcare and a host of other complications. However, what prospective students usually mean when they pose the question of whether online master’s in education programs are easier is whether the coursework itself is easier. Usually, at least at a reputable school, the answer is no. Online students must meet the same requirements to earn a Master of Education degree that students learning through a traditional classroom format meet.
Same Degree, Same Requirements
When you graduate from an online Master of Education degree program, your degree won’t specify that you completed your studies online. That’s because online is simply the format through which you learned, not a determination of what coursework you completed or what skills you learned. You receive the same degree that a student who chose to take classes on campus would receive, because you are meeting the same requirements.
Just like traditional programs, online Master of Education programs usually require at least 30 credits. They may include many different programs of study, ranging from educational leadership to curriculum and instruction, and the coursework required for each major or concentration compares to that program’s offline version.
Although people equate online learning with more flexibility, some schools offer alternative term schedules or accelerated programs both online and offline, allowing students to earn their Master of Education degree faster no matter which learning format they choose.
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Employer Perception of Online Degrees
Perception matters, particularly when it comes to earning a degree intended to advance your career. While many students still believe the myth that online degrees are easy, how employers view online programs is beginning to change. In fact, research supports that employers view online degrees as equal with traditional degrees when the online college meets three important conditions: regional institutional accreditation, a traditional brick-and-mortar campus where classes are taught and a reputation as a reputable academic brand.
Accreditation matters because it illustrates that the school meets high standards. Regional, rather than national, accreditation has long been the preferred form of institutional accreditation among traditional colleges, so it makes sense that employers hold online colleges to this same standard. For graduate students in education, it can only help to choose a program that has also attained accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Employers tend to have more positive feelings about online degrees that come from schools offering both online and on-campus coursework. Since these schools usually require the same admission standards and coursework for online students as they do on-campus students, employers can feel more confident that candidates educated online have the same knowledge base as those who learned in the physical classroom. Online only schools, on the other hand, don’t have these traditional programs whose quality has already been recognized to compare to.
Finally, the reputation of the online institution matters. An online degree from a widely respected school is far less concerning to most employers than one from a school they have never heard of, which might not even be legitimate or follow any validated curriculum standards. When employers trust the name and reputation of your school, the fact that you took your courses online makes little difference.
The Distance Education Accrediting Commission accredits online programs specifically, but DEAC recognition isn’t a deal-breaker. The DEAC only accredits programs that award at least 51 percent of its degrees online, not all schools with legitimate online programs.
Challenges Unique to Online Degree Programs
In some ways, an online Master of Education program is actually more difficult than an in-person program. Although the curriculum is the same as learning in a classroom, the experience of online learning may not be. For many students, this can make it harder to perform to their full potential. Without regular face-to-face meetings to keep course requirements top of mind, it can be easy for assignments and deadlines to slip through the cracks. Many students struggle to find the self-discipline needed to work as independently as an online course may require. It can be more difficult in an online course to realize that you are struggling or figure out how to get help before you fall too far behind.
That doesn’t mean that choosing an online education will doom you to years of feeling isolated in your studies. The quality of the online learning experience – not strictly the course materials, but the experience students have in the virtual classroom – varies widely between schools. The schools in which online students learn the most and see the best outcomes include plenty of interactivity between students and the instructor throughout the semester, according to Inside Higher Ed. The more you know about your school’s online learning format, and about your own strengths and weaknesses as a student, the better you can plan for success in your distance learning education.
Time management is also a big issue in online learning. You may not spend time in a physical classroom on campus, but going into an online program with the mindset that it is easy and won’t take much time is a mistake, according to U.S. News & World Report.