With about 6-million students in four-year college programs taking at least one online class this year, there’s no doubt that distance learning is having a profound effect on higher education in America. Through this, of course, we not only benefit from greater ease of access but we also observe an evolving paradigm shift to a more student-centric educational experience.

Certification programs

Distance learning, however, encompasses far more than just degree programs. One important strand is lifelong learning — knowledge not acquired for the workplace. There is, though, another area that in practice straddles the two, though its intent is more work focused. Higher education institutions typically offer certification and endorsement programs, which may range from a software solutions certification to a CPR/First Aid certification to an endorsement for teaching talented and gifted students.

Certification and endorsement programs attract students for several reasons. They are more focused than a degree program – you don’t have to take a course in medieval literature in order to be certified in project management. As a result, the program can be completed with a smaller expenditure of time and tuition dollars. Likewise, the payback begins much sooner.

“Overall, Dr. Beisser’s TAG program has enrolled students from 28 states and 8 other countries.”

Serving remote areas

Dr. Sally Beisser runs the Talented and Gifted (TAG) endorsement program for Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. With 90 percent of the state’s land devoted to agriculture, Iowa’s is in the lower third of U.S. states in terms of population density. Dr. Beisser notes the area is rural, but adds “rural by distance need not equate to rural through backwardness.” Drake University matriculated distance learning students last year and is a real force for progress.

Overall, Dr. Beisser’s TAG program has enrolled students from 28 states and 8 other countries. She notes that students pop up in clusters: “Search engines are powerful but we humans are social animals. We like to talk to each other.” Enrolling three teachers from one Pennsylvania school district, she says, is not surprising.

Teachers, though, are not Dr. Beisser’s only constituency. Parents of talented and gifted children take her program seriously. “We enrolled the mom of four boys in Mexico. Their school believed the remedy for the boys’ intelligence was medication,” she explains. “Mom felt otherwise.”

By enrolling at a distance in the Drake program, the mother gained a basis for assessing the boys’ intellect and behavior (being under-challenged led to non-compliant actions) and developing productive interventions. This illustrates that one beauty of distance learning is that the same tool often serves many goals and varied constituencies. When distance-learning professionals engage with each other, everyone benefits.

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