Florida Distance Learning
The state of Florida recognized as early as 1996 that distance learning programs are the wave of the future. In order to ensure consistent quality of a par with that of brick-and-mortar colleges, the Florida Distance Learning Consortium was created by the Florida State Board of Community Colleges and established a website as a clearinghouse for information on the hundreds of online programs offered by Florida colleges and universities. The Florida Board of Governors and the Florida Division of Colleges is advised by the consortium, whose collaborative members represent Floridian institutions of higher learning that offer distance learning options to their students.
While the Florida Board of Governors recognizes that distance learning is not for everyone, it wants to support students with the personal discipline and time management skills necessary to be successful with distance learning. Attending classes on a physical campus is simply not an option for many potential students. Individuals with jobs they cannot afford to leave, parents of younger children, individuals who are incarcerated and want to put the time given for rehabilitation to excellent use, and disabled individuals for whom travel is an issue can all achieve the goal of earning a degree in order to create a better future.
The consortium website offers those who are considering the option of distance learning in a Florida school a self-test to help determine if this method of learning might be a good fit. Among the things to consider is your particular learning style. If you enjoy social connection and like working with others, distance learning might leave you feeling lonely or a little lost. Some students learn well in a classroom setting because they aren’t secure in their own knowledge; when other students ask questions, they, too, learn. Distance learning is unlikely to be a good choice for this type of learner. It is a perfect fit, though, for people who understand the value of an education and are not simply enrolling in college because they’ve completed high school and their parents want them to. Younger students who take distance learning classes because they think they will be less work and afford greater opportunity to sleep in or party will be disappointed to discover that if anything, participating in a virtual class requires more focus and determination rather than less.
There are a number of distance learning options made available by Florida schools. In addition to credit courses that lead to a degree, many schools offer adult education, continuing education, and college preparation as online options. Some courses are made available completely online, while others are hybrid and require the student to spend a limited amount of time on campus. This might be in the form of being present for periodic classes, seminars or workshops, or for testing. Strictly online classes deliver instructional material including print, video, and multimedia presentations through the internet. Students can directly communicate with instructors and classmates via discussion boards or online chats, or indirectly communicate through email.
Another delivery option comes in the form of correspondence courses. This is the only method by which inmates can pursue a degree. Here, the student receives books, handouts, study guides, and other materials and submits completed work through the mail. Correspondence courses truly allow students to work at their own pace. They are allowed a full year to complete a single class, and work completely independently. They can work at a much faster rate if they choose.
Another way students can choose to have coursework delivered is via two-way television. This choice approximates face-to-face learning and requires students to be present in a room that has been equipped with television and audio feeds so that their instructor can see and hear them.
Students who decide to take a hybrid or online class are required to have computer equipment sufficient for the tasks they will be expected to accomplish. Old computers with dialup connections will not work for most, if any, of these types of classes. A student taking a class in which intensive graphics are used will need a computer that can handle that technology, while one enrolled in a basic English class won’t need all those bells and whistles. For the most part, online classes do impose certain deadlines, such as paper or project due dates, exam completion dates and the like. However, in most cases the student can “attend” class as is convenient. The exception would be if the instructor announces a webinar or other event that requires attendance.
Distance learning options not only make learning convenient because it can be done at home during flexible hours, it also allows students the opportunity to take one or more classes at another college and transfer the credits to the school in which they are enrolled. This is a boon if your college doesn’t offer something you really want to learn, and the nearest school that does is hours away. This option does require you register with the second school as a transient student. Students should note that not every course in every school will necessarily be available, even if it is offered as a distance learning option. In some cases, availability is restricted only to students who are enrolled at the school offering the class. In others students are permitted into the class only if they have been accepted into a specific program or fulfilled other criteria.
Florida distance learning programs that have been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting agency that has been approved by the State of Florida and that is also recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, are able to offer their students the same federal financial aid as is made available to students in brick-and-mortar schools. Loans, scholarships, and grants are only offered to students in accredited programs, so it is very important to ensure any Florida distance learning program you are interested in pursuing does have proper accreditation.
Unfortunately, the internet makes scamming hardworking students easy. As you research schools, you might find some that look interesting and claim to be accredited. They won’t be lying, but what they neglect to mention is that their accrediting boards or agencies are for-profit and are in the business of simply selling the accreditation rather than actually evaluating the curriculum, instructional methods, and quality of education the school offers.
Last Updated: 12/14/2017