School's in

From earning an MBA to making a webpage, online classes are a convenient way to study at your own pace. Kristen McQuillin hits the books.

With a nod to 19th-century correspondence courses, 21st-century technologies take learning online to make them more interactive and personal. Online classes let you to work at your own pace at a time and location that is convenient to you-just the ticket in hectic Tokyo.

Basic distance learning courses are packaged on CDs or a simple website. They are the equivalent of a book and may include access to an instructor by e-mail. These simple presentations are targeted for lifelong learners who are not interested in college or professional credit.
More interaction comes with the addition of components like testing, bulletin boards and chat. Some courses use custom classroom software that incorporates assignment uploading, class projects groups, and resource libraries in a secure environment. The instructor is more accessible and participates in the course to answer questions, give assignments and guide students. Taking distance learning a step further, computer video conferencing is an infrequent but very effective method of communicating among classmates and faculty scattered widely.

The perfect online learner
It takes a special person to excel in online education. Some students feel they get more out of online learning than from traditional classes. You will probably enjoy distance learning if you are self-directed, comfortable with technology, and able to express thoughts and personality in writing. Remember, most of your interaction with your instructor and classmates will be via e-mail, chat, or bulletin board postings, and that's not counting class assignments and papers.

For an evaluation of your future as a distance learner, try's self-assessment:

Professional education
Technology certifications and skill upgrades can be earned online from vendors like Cisco and Sun or from more broadly-based technology educators including BrainBench ( , SmartPlanet (, and CompTIA (

You can earn professional credits in other fields including real estate, accounting, education, architecture, and law.'s Distance Learning section ( lists many professional certification programs.

University degrees
Accredited programs in the US, UK & Australia offer degrees from Bachelor to Masters level and certificate programs. MBAs are popular, areas of study but even Music Education degrees can be earned online. Many degree programs combine solo study with online group projects, discussion boards, live chats or video conferencing.

When choosing a degree program, beware of diploma mills, "colleges" that offer degrees to anyone who opens a wallet. Real academic degrees are earned, not purchased. Make sure the school you choose is accredited and that any credits you earn can be transferred to other institutions.

To find an accredited program to fit your needs and budget, take a look at Peterson's Distance Learning Guide ( Their searchable database helps you pinpoint relevant courses of study.

If you prefer an up-close-and-personal approach to choosing a school, mark your calendar for November 8th & 9th. Distance Learning Center ( is sponsoring the Education Expo 2001 at Tokyo Central Station; a wide range of schools will be on hand to discuss their programs with prospective students.

Points to consider
Access to instructor. For university and post-graduate courses, you should have ready access to your instructor via e-mail and perhaps chat or a bulletin board. Other types of online learning offer less access to the instructor, but any course should include an e-mail address or phone number for questions. Technology and Materials. What materials (textbooks, CDs, software) are required for the course? Will any required software run on your computer? Location-dependent components? Is a residency required before a degree is granted? Are there times when you must join an event online with the full class? Do you need access to a local video conferencing system? Time/Homework. Are there deadlines or calendars to follow? How much work is required to complete the source?

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