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Archive-name: education/distance-ed-faq/part1
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 1999/10/25
Version: 8.0

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Part
1 of 4 parts
FAQ Maintainers: Rita Laws,  and
Neil Hynd,, Al Lepine

*** The FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) ***

Part 1 of 4 parts

FAQ Maintainers: Neil Hynd,, Al Lepine, Editor/Originator: Rita Laws,,


The end of this FAQ contains a list of people who have provided input and
encouragement. If your name is not here and should be, please e-mail the
maintainers. If your name is here, check the spelling. Thanks again to
everyone who has sent supportive email and ideas. Please keep them coming.
Useful FAQs are always in the process of being revised.

Respectfully submitted, Rita Laws, Neil Hynd, Al Lepine.

** Version 8.0 News **
Version 8 has been re-written to condense some of the background Distance
Education information, and to try to present a variety of reference sources.
Special contributions have also been prepared on new subjects such as the
growth of online/self taught certifications and online education.

The 4-part structure has been retained to simplify loading and updating, and
the web-based version continues to be maintained at:-

** Caveat Emptor - Let the Buyer Beware - Diploma Mill Warning **
Beware of bogus college or so-called university degree programs that offer
degrees requiring only money and no significant amount of coursework,
testing, transfer credits, and when appropriate, life or work experience
credits. Legitimate degrees are always earned, never bought. Diploma mills
offer frivolous qualifications for money and little or no work.

** New Moderated DL Newsgroup **

Be sure to check out the new moderated DL Newsgroup which is regularly 
visited by some of the best-informed people in the Distance Education 
world. Your questions will be seriously answered by people who care about 
the issues.

You can find it at:

The newsgroup FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)


1. What is distance education or distance learning and who needs it ?

2. What is the history of DL and how do I judge the quality of a school ?

3. What do the different forms of accreditation mean and how can I choose an
appropriate educational quality assurance measure ?

4. How do I find the DL program that's best for me and where can I find
"online universities" and DL resources on the Net ?

5. What about financial aid and how can I stay motivated to complete my
degree ?

6. After I've graduated, what next ?

7. What are Research Degrees ?

8. What can you tell me about Certifications that can be earned by Distance
Learning ?

9. What are the implications of On-Line Education in Distance Learning ?

10. What's happening at the AED Newsgroup ?

11. What information and reference sources can I use ?

12. Acknowledgments, Thanks and Legalities

** AED Version 8.0 FAQ **

1. What is distance education or distance learning and who needs it ?

Distance Education (DE), also known as Distance Learning (DL), is simply
learning from a distance, usually from home, or from a conveniently located
off-campus site. DL allows adults to earn college credits, even entire
degrees, without ever leaving home. DL makes use of the Internet, software,
modems, TV stations, 2-way television using fiber optics, microwave, digital
phone lines, satellites, radio, ham radio, video cassette and audio tape,
and normal mail to deliver instruction.

DL also refers to on-campus classes where the professor is not physically
present, but communicating with students at several sites simultaneously via
television, modem, or some other electronic means. DL is part of all degree
types, from the A.A. to the Ph.D., and is an option in most majors, and at
hundreds of universities worldwide.

A broader definition of DL includes non-credit courses, workshops, seminars,
and career credits like CEUs (continuing education credits). DL is for
people who want to learn a new skill, or just pick up a few new ideas for
the fun of learning. Additionally, DL is an exciting and growing part of
public and private schools from elementary level through high school in many
areas such as math, science, and languages. Shared courses offered via
satellite, fiber optic cable and  videocassette connect schools in the same
town, or great distances apart.

Courses can be one-way or two-way. Finally, pre-university distance
education, commonly known as home-schooling, is a type of DL. Typically, a
home-schooled child is taught by his or her parents, however, sometimes, the
child is tutored at home in part or completely via modem or TV course.

The definitions of terms like college credit and degree vary around the
world. In the US, college credits are proportional to semester hours, and
how quickly they are earned is usually determined by the number of hours
spent in class, i.e., three hours spent in a course each week for one
semester equals 3 college credits.

Some courses will be worth 1 credit hour, and some, 6, 9, or even 12 credit
hours. Three credit hours per course is most common. Even though DL degrees
do not follow a traditional course of study in classrooms, they are awarded
based on the DL equivalent of college credits earned.

There are four degree levels in the USA and in some other parts of the

* The Associate of Arts (AA) degree is a two year degree, traditionally,
requiring 60 semester hours of undergraduate study.

* The Bachelor of Arts (BA), or Science (BS) degree is traditionally a 4
year degree of 120 semester hours of credit.

* The Master of Arts (MA), or Science (MS) degree is the first level of
graduate study beyond a bachelor degree. It requires 30 semester hours of
credit beyond the bachelors.  It is more focused in a subject area than the
bachelors and may require original research in the form of a thesis.

* The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is a post-graduate degree
encompassing 90 semester hours beyond the bachelors program. The doctorate
goes by other names, too, such as Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or Doctor of
Business Administration (DBA). The Ph.D. and its equivalents are the highest
academic degree that can be earned.

Other structures found around the world encompass a 3-year bachelor degree
program, with direct entry into a 3-year doctoral research program,
sometimes by means of a Master of Philosophy research scheme that is later
converted into a PhD. Where credits can be earned from prior learning or
experience, the times can be proportionately shorter. Master's and doctoral
degrees can also be earned by a combination of coursework, testing and

For most students, DL remains primarily a books and paper proposition, as
well as an independent study effort, but is made more convenient with the
delivery of information via the Internet, the web, online services,
telephone, TV, satellite courses, VHS tapes, cassette tapes, records, radio,
ham radio, and CD-ROM. Many DL programs are correspondence courses where
books, materials, and coursework are exchanged through the mail.

However, there are courses which are completely electronic, such as
interactive multimedia courses, and group learning in virtual classrooms.
These options are growing in number and scope. Some DL programs have
residency requirements ranging from a single week-end to short campus

DL also involves finding alternative ways to earn college credits, such as
through challenge examinations. Mature students are particularly adept at
testing out of courses by demonstrating subject mastery through a single
examination. Earning college credit for life and work experience through the
creation of a student portfolio is another option common to DL programs.
Many people complete long unfinished Bachelor's degrees through the use of

The people who need DL are usually adults, for whom the convenience and
appeal of earning college credits on all degree levels with minimal domestic
disturbance is a great attraction. Parents, caregivers, working adults, and
all busy people find DL to be an excellent way to combine studies and

Most DL students are mature adults over the age of 25. Some DL programs
cater exclusively to people over age 30. Others have no age limits, and will
admit otherwise qualified teens and gifted children.

People who prefer to study solo can do so with DL, whilst those who enjoy
group learning can find DL classes online. People who live in remote areas
or where weather can be extreme, those who have disabilities that make
commuting difficult and many others just for the fun of it turn to DL as the
only practical way to earn college credits.

There is scheduling flexibility in DL. Many courses start when the student
is ready, not just in September and January. Students can learn at any time
of the day or night and there is no waiting for when a certain course will
be offered at the traditional school. DL students can take any course
anytime, and, sometimes, even help design the course they want to take.

2. What is the history of DL and how do I judge the quality of a school ?

The history of DL goes back more than 100 years in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The first London University External Degree programs for overseas students
started in 1858. The innovative Open University, started in 1971 in the UK,
and has been copied around the world. Today, the largest DL student body in
the world is part of UNISA, the University of South Africa, with more than
200,000 people enrolled worldwide.

In Australia, the University of Queensland offered an external degree in the
1890's due to sparse populations and large open expanses. Today, Australia's
higher education system incorporates DL in many programs, and is considered
a model for other nations.

In the USA, some schools offered courses through DL in the late 19th
century. Columbia University offered DL options in the 1920's, and other
schools offered courses by radio in the 30's and courses via television in
the 60's. However, DL remained a little-known means of earning a college
degree throughout most of the 20th century.

Universities that are exclusively DL began appearing in the US, on both
coasts, at about the same time, in the early 1970's. Among the pioneers, the
state of New York gave us the "Regents External Degree Program," now called
Regents College, an accredited school. The state of California produced
California Western University, now called California Coast University, a
state-approved institution.

Because DL is still not a well-understood concept with many people, there
can be  prejudice against these types of degrees with some believing that DL
is an inferior education. DL degrees can be better accepted in some
occupations than in others, and prejudice is lessening as the facts of DL
become known, and as the number of people holding such degrees increases.

DL acceptability raise issues of quality assurance and how potential
students can judge between different DL offerings. Various approaches have
been made to this subject, involving accreditation, consumer protection,
licensing or other measures.

British universities attained their ability to offer degrees from Papal
Charter in earlier times, followed by Royal Charter after the Reformation in
1534. American universities exist by virtue of complying with individual
state requirements since each state government is the competent education
authority and not the federal government.

In Canada, there is no federal degree granting authority.  Degrees are
granted by virtue of each province's legislature having empowered an
institution with the authority to grant degrees. In Australia, although self
accrediting, universities are authorized by a separate Act of Parliament in
each case. Qualifications however are issued in accordance with a set
framework that encompasses all education through to PhD.

To determine the quality of a school and how its qualifications suit your
purpose, you need to assess the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the
degree against your own objectives.

** Legalities:

FAQ Maintainers: Neil Hynd, Al Lepine Editor/Originator: Dr. Rita Laws,

This FAQ may be re-produced for non-profit uses, and as long as it is copied
in its entirety and without modification. It may be duplicated at other
education-related newsgroups. For any other use, including commercial, or
the use of excerpts, permission must first be obtained in writing from the
author, Rita Laws, Ph.D., at email:

Copyright (c) 1999, 2000 by Rita Laws. 

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:


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