Elbie Liebenberg, Principle of Oxbridge Academy, states that it is essential for South African students wanting to study online to do thorough research before parting with their money. Here are some of her best tips to make the decision a little easier.
Liebenberg says that just as prospective students would carefully investigate their options before signing up for full-time study, they should put in the same time and effort when choosing a distance learning programme and institution.
We have seen the number of students enrolled in distance learning programmes increasing each year, and this is due to a range of factors. There is an increased demand for skills development given the tough competition for available positions, many people are not able to study full-time due to financial reasons or other commitments, and others may not be able to afford the additional costs such as transport and accommodation.
Liebenberg says that there are a few important boxes to check when investigating distance learning programmes and institutions.
Check the registration and accreditation status of the institution and the qualification
Before you choose a course, determine whether you need a credit-bearing course that is accredited, or whether a non-accredited short learning programme will be enough for you to gain the skills you need. Liebenberg says various institutions and courses require different types of registration and accreditation, and a prospective student should make sure they understand what that would entail for their chosen institution and qualification.
Make contact on various platforms to get a feel for the institution
You can visit the institution's website to search for information about their courses. If you can't find the information you are looking for relatively easily, especially basic information, or if the website is difficult to navigate, this is a red flag in terms of how engaging with their platforms will be in the future.
It is also a good idea to reach out via email or contact them telephonically to evaluate the level of service you are getting. If an institution does not give prompt feedback and answer your questions timeously, then you already have a good indication of the level of service you can expect from them.
Don't be shy to engage in some social media stalking
Does the institution have active and responsive social media profiles? Do they have a substantial number of followers and is there regular activity on the page? Does their social media presence appear professional? If yes, then it is a good indicator that they are established and won't disappear overnight.
Find out what support structures they have in place
The success or failure of distance learning students is very closely linked to the support services an institution offers. It is important to check the range and methods of contact available on their various platforms.
You can check whether they have policies regarding turnaround time for queries and marking of assignments, as this would give you an idea of what to expect. Do they have student portals and online support services? And does the institution make an effort to support, motivate and inspire their students via social media and blogs, and do current students positively interact on these platforms?
Research and understand the costs
Make sure that the institution you're interested in is 100% transparent and upfront about the costs involved. They have to be able to tell you not only what your fees will be, but also what other expenses you may likely incur. If they are not forthcoming about additional costs such as exam fees and textbooks, you might find yourself soend significantly more money than you planned to.
It is essential to do your homework and thoroughly research the institution online, especially by speaking to current and former students if possible.
Distance learning is an exciting and potentially very rewarding opportunity, but choosing an institution whose qualifications are not worth the paper they're written on, or whose processes are still stuck in the past, will ultimately lead to disappointment.