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Harvard University Opens its Doors to Online Education

Maybe you have to be on the right mailing list, but it came as news to me the other day when I learned that one of the thirteen colleges on the Harvard campus is the Harvard University Extension School. It has apparently been in existence for close to a century, focusing on continuing education but also offering an interesting selection of both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

One of the major initiatives at the Harvard Extension School this year is a push into online education.�� There are over 100 distance learning options in the 2009 -2010 Harvard Extension catalogue.�� Much of the material for these courses is prepared by Harvard professors, and the educational presentations include videotaped lectures from the faculty along with scheduled assignments to be completed online.�� There is also an established method for interacting with fellow online students and to a limited extent, with faculty.

Old School Online Degrees

There are a large number of established and respected universities that are rolling out online programs; at the moment every brick and mortar school has its own rules and in most cases, the traditional universities have a catch.�� The degree programs offered are limited, or the educational offerings are for continuing education purposes, or the courses are meant to augment learning opportunities for on-campus students. ��But there are dozens of schools booting up online capabilities; a handful of examples includes Boston University, Penn State, Stanford, even the Ivy League's Cornell University - all are employing distance learning techniques.

So when the nation's finest and oldest university chooses to deploy online learning choices, it's further evidence that the technology works and works well for education.�� What was at first reluctant participation in distance education, disparaged as inadequate by many a tenured Ph.D, is now blossoming on many NCAA servers.�� One of the practical elements that traditional schools have finally recognized is that a virtual classroom has no limitation on chairs, and therefore no limitation on students.�� It's a cheaper way of teaching and according to the U.S. Department of Education, it's often more effective than classroom work.

Harvard Eases into the Current

Higher education is mired in tradition, and Harvard may hold top honors in that category as well.�� The University is offering a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees incorporating their online program, but you cannot - yet - earn a degree from Harvard entirely through distance learning.�� Online degree programs have varying requirements for taking a minimum number of courses on the Harvard campus, ranging from a single course to two semester's worth.

You thought it was Ivy League education for the rest of us, right?�� Not quite yet.�� To the school's credit, they do try to mollify the campus requirement by noting that their extension courses and degrees have "competitive" tuition rates, and that during the summer session there is often reasonable housing available on campus.�� But Harvard, like many universities, is proceeding into the virtual dimension with caution, because - well, because until very recently unless it was done with a classroom and a chalkboard, it simply wasn't done.�� Not so anymore; what we're seeing is another university taking a first step towards the inevitable.

Online Education Comes of Age

Perhaps the salient point of this tale is the fact that online education is rolling through the country's traditional universities like a tsunami.�� Before it's over, distance learning may be a partial solution to college tuition's that are in the stratosphere because it's often cheaper to teach a course online than in a classroom

The other notion that this digital revolution brings to mind is that some belated recognition is due the schools that have been scorned, the Kaplan's and Capella's of this world.�� Their teaching methodology has evolved through many stages - at the moment, they know a lot more about delivering distance education that sticks to the mind than the schools that send their graduates off to Wall Street and Capitol Hill.

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