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Distance Education vs. In Person Education

I know that this blog is about exercise science related things, but I felt that I would address the situation of distance education (learning primarily via online courses) vs. in person education (going to class every day, etc).

There have been a huge amount of distance programs popping up all over the country in the field of exercise science, kinesiology, nutrition, dietetics, and public health. Since I have gone through school both ways (I have been going to school for what seems like forever), I figured that this entry would help some of those that may be on the fence or looking for alternatives to their continuing education.

First, I will say that going to school (in person education) is essential for undergraduate students just out of high school. In my opinion, being there and having the experience of going to class and getting some hands on education is needed to help spring board your career in any field. There is really no substitute for being there and learning in person when you are just starting out.

Once you have completed your undergraduate work and you have been working in the field of your choice for a few years, you may find that continuing your education is critical to your professional life. While going to school has a lot of great perks, sometimes it can be extremely difficult to attend classes and work a full time job. If you have a 3 hour class on Monday, you really have to figure that the class will take up about 5 hours that day, since you can’t schedule clients or patients on either ends of that three hour class in order to allow you to travel to and from school. If you do the math that means you have 3 hours left that day to see clients/patients. I don’t know too many people that can live on 15 hours a week of work. Now, if you have a large financial backing, then this option may work very well for you, in which case you should go for it. Some of the perks of going to graduate school at an in person program are:

- potential for grad assistance work

- industry contacts through professors and fellow students

- internship opportunities

- hands on work with faculty members (especially if you are conducting research)

- potentially better placement opportunities once the program is finished

Obviously, those are great perks; however, as I said above, this option may not be for everyone. A distance option may serve you much better as it:
- allows you more flexibility

- allows you to make your own schedule

- some programs allow you to go at your own pace (faster or slower depending on how you want to do it)

- the ability to still work and make a living

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a walk in the park. You have lectures to watch, books to read, papers to write, tests to do, and forum questions to respond to, where you interact with your professor and other students. Also, you have to be a very self motivated person to make distance learning work for you. You have to set aside time each day to take care of your assignments and study and you have to be proactive about asking questions when you don’t fully understand something (since you are not face to face with the teacher or in a lecture where you can stop and ask questions, you are watching the lecture online rather, you really have to make sure that you are understanding everything fully). While the pro’s of making your own schedule are nice, there are some con’s to the distance education:

- you don’t have direct contact with the professors, so you don’t always have the opportunity to develop a real professional relationship

- you don’t have direct contact with the students so you again, don’t always have the opportunity to develop a real professional relationship

- you typically don’t have internship opportunities and since you aren’t at the campus, there are no graduate opportunities available to you

- since you are studying on your own via the internet, you may not have any placement opportunities once the program is over

You really need to weigh the options between the two if you are making a decision to go down this road. I will tell you that I really did enjoy my distance classes because of the fact that I could check in and answer the forum questions and do my homework when I had time. Now that I am in school (again) and working fulltime, I can honestly say that I am tired as heck as I work a full day and then have to get down to school for 4 hours 3 nights a week and 3 hours on Saturday. It can be really draining. Also, when I did my distance program, I did have a number of years of practical experience (7 years), so it wasn’t as if I was trying to learn something totally new. While I am a very self motivated person when it comes to my education, I did at times miss the opportunity of being in classes and having in person discussions (something that I am enjoying right now in my courses).

No matter which way you go about it, you are going to need to work hard and study hard. If you want to be good at something, you need to take the time to really learn it. Whether that learning is via a distance program or an in person program is for you to decide.