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Online Colleges & Distance Learning

"I don't like the idea of racing out of work to try to beat traffic to try to be on time to a class that only lasts an hour," says Alex, an information technology professional who is currently attending an online college to earn his associate's degree.

Taking a class means having to sit in a classroom from one to three hours (not including travel time to and from campus). College courses can be a burden for some students, simply because it prevents them from accomplishing other things in their lives.

Education is an important goal shared by many people, but scheduled class times may be too inconvenient for some. Parents, members of the military, and working adults typically have difficulty committing to an inflexible class schedule.

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Today's affordable and accessible technology allows those non-traditional students the ability to take college classes in a more convenient, flexible format. Distance learning has provided millions of students with a way to get an education while raising a family, being deployed, and working.

61.3% percent of all colleges and universities in the United States provide distance learning to their students. What is distance learning? It is a phrase meaning that students can take a college course without having to physically be in a classroom. Their attendance is monitored over discussion boards, threaded discussions, and e-mails; it's all done over the Internet.

The concept of taking a class over the Internet is hard to understand for some. Is it possible to have as good an online education experience compared to the more traditional on-campus experience? For most adult students who have taken courses online, the experience has been more than good. "The ... advantage of being in a distance learning forum is having access to fellow students, teachers and distance learning experts in general. Whenever you have a question, all you have to do is ask," says Abner, a devoted husband and student (currently working on his online MBA degree).

Over 3.5 million students were enrolled in at least one online course during the fall of 2006, as reported by the Sloan Consortium. As the popularity of distance learning programs continues to build, prospective students can expect to gain more familiarity about them. Many universities have made their classes available for free over the Internet in the form of videos (as is the case with Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), while others are delivering their courses online and charging regular tuition for their online degree programs (as is the case with Harvard Extension School of Harvard University, Boston University, etc.).

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