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Alternative Learning Routes Make Education a Smart Idea

That’s because alternative learning is the wave for adult students in 2010. It’s a rare university these days that doesn’t offer online courses – Penn State University’s World Campus currently boasts 9,600 enrollees, with that number increasing by 37 percent annually to take the 537 courses in 62 programs. AMR Research, in Stamford, Conn., which was recently acquired by Gartner, Inc., ranks its Smeal College of Business as having the best supply-chain program in the United States, and the school is also a winner of the Sloan-Consortium Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program for the Basic and Advanced Certificates in Turfgrass Management and bachelor’s of science degrees.

Distance learning is so big now that the Transparency by Design initiative’s Web site helps adult learners compare outcomes and determine student performance across programs.

Meanwhile, the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) has tapped Hezel Associates to study the effectiveness of mobile learning – e.g., courses via iPod®/iPhone® and Blackberries®. Early-phase studies show that the percentage of military students who complete mobile courses are much higher than civilian students taking the same course online at the University of West Florida and Coastline Community College. We’re talking 91 percent to 72 percent, a 21-point difference in favor of learning via phone.

It was enough for Hezel to recommend DANTES continue to probe the mobile possibilities in the future.

Among the tools that landed Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., among the top 10 military friendly schools in America: lessons on CD-ROM. “They work very well for service members who were deployed and don’t have Internet connections,” points out Sue Dewan, executive director of the Center for Military Education there. She’s obviously on to something: Excelsior College military students have a course completion rate of 95 percent, the highest among various student groups – and it just launched a degree in Bachelor of Professional Studies in Business and Management March 1, 2010.

Other colleges, such as American Military University headquartered in Charles Town, W.Va., are open to the idea of pre-loaded hand-loaded devices to address the problem of downloading materials while in a war zone. Others, such as Colorado Technical University, ships books via military post five weeks before a distance learning class begins as an alternative to its cell phone download app.

Still, one thing remains the same: Too many students lack confidence in their academic abilities, regardless of the changing landscape, says Josh Salcman, president of Virtual Nerd, LLC, in St. Louis, Mo. His advice: Try it anyhow. “You can ask the same question 20 times and no one cares,” he notes. “The ‘I’m supposed to know this’ pressure doesn’t come into play online if no one is watching, so ask your questions without embarrassment.”