Busy lives, especially those of women, have changed the way goods are marketed and delivered to consumers. The 24-7 marketing strategy of the past decade which makes supermarkets, gas stations, discount chain stores, and even financial institutions, available to their customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has now come to education. Today, with distance education, students can attend school anywhere in the world, any time of the day, without ever leaving home.
As more and more demands are put on women, they need more options to meet them. For women who need to further their education for personal or professional reasons, distance education may be just the option they're looking for.
Distance education is not a new concept. At one time, it was called correspondence school. The biggest change in recent years, though, is not what it's called but how it's delivered. With videotapes and computers, today's higher education students don't have to go to college—college comes to them.
And there are numerous colleges offering distance education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 44 percent of all two- and four-year higher education institutions offered it in 1997 and had 1,343,580 students enrolled in college-level, credit-granting distance education courses.
Women are a major target for distance education because of their growing and dominant enrollment in postsecondary education. Between 1987 and 1997, the number of men enrolled in college rose seven percent, while the number of women enrolled increased by 17 percent. In 1997, women were 56 percent of all college students compared with 52 percent in 1983. Their enrollment share is expected to rise to 57 percent by 2008.
For many women, distance education is their best choice. Here's why:
*It's accessible. Women can study what they want, not settle for what's nearby. Kimberly Dawn Blum is an example. She earned her bachelor of science degree from California State University- Hayward the traditional way. But after marrying, moving to Texas, and having children, she couldn't find a program close to home to pursue a master's degree in business administration. That's when she discovered distance education and began taking classes at the University of Phoenix. After completing that degree in 1996 she became a doctoral candidate at Walden University, a distance education institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
*It's flexible. Women can study when they want, completing course work on their schedule, not the college's. For women, like Blum, with family obligations and others, like Marsha Hunter of St. Paul, Minnesota, with professional obligations, that's one of distance education's biggest benefits.
At age 45, Hunter decided to explore the possibility of leaving her 25-year career as a professional musician to pursue her interest in aeronautics which she developed as an amateur pilot. While continuing to meet her performance commitments she attended, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, via computer, in Daytona Beach, Florida, which trains engineers, pilots and air traffic controllers. Hunter's flight in cyberspace from St. Paul to Florida landed her a master's degree in aeronautical sciences in May 1999. She is now an independent researcher and consultant in aeronautical human factors, studying human interaction with aeronautical systems.
* Distance education is a good match for women's learning styles. During the last two decades researchers like Carol Gilligan, Mary Belenky and Dorothy MacKeracher have found that collaboration is the key to better performance by females in the classroom. In 1997 a study at California State University-Northridge revealed that students learning in a virtual classroom tested 20 percent better across the board than their counterparts in a traditional classroom. Jerald Schutte, the Northridge professor who conducted the study, said the results of the research can be explained by the online collaboration created in the virtual classroom. "The students formed peer groups online as compensation for not having time in class to talk," he said.
The study also showed that students in the virtual classroom spent about 50 percent more time working with each other than traditional classroom students. It concluded that collaboration "manifests itself in better test scores" as students formed study groups to "pick up the slack of not having a real classroom."
For women who need to or want to further their education, distance education is an option worth looking into. It can bring them closer to meeting their personal and professional goals.