Dispelling the Stigma of Online Design Education (Part 3 of 3)

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AAUWe have come to the conclusion of a three-part series on whether an online school is a viable and accepted solution for design education and hopefully we are reversing some of the stigmas out there about online schooling. In Part-Two, I featured a Q&A with four designers and their thoughts about their education choices. I was surprised by some of the answers, but most of them fell in line with my views. Online education does not seem to not be a perfect fit for everyone, most obviously the younger set. This is not a bad conclusion. I still feel that younger students do gain certain benefits from attending a traditional school that they would not otherwise have received by attending school online. It also does not surprise me that us older and more experienced adults tend to appreciate what online schools offer in convenience. I know for myself, I couldn’t just pick up and move to San Francisco to attend school. I have a house, family and job and time is very valuable.

Cost was not part of the question and answer segment, but I personally have some issues with the cost of online education. My thoughts are that there should be some savings by attending school online, but I have not found this to be the case. Online students do not have access to a lot of the facilities that traditional bricks and mortar (B&M) students have, and most often cannot attend live events. They are offering more lecture and events online now, but that was not that case as recently as two years ago. We use our own utilities, equipment and facilities. There should be an adjustment in cost.

With budget cuts, we may see schools going online more often as a way to save overhead costs. Smaller schools may end up going online 100% because they cannot afford to keep their doors open. I could say something trite here such as this is the wave of the future, but just as I don’t want to see books and print go away in favor of pads and tablets, I would not want to see bricks and mortar schools close their doors and offer only online education. I still favor choice and see benefits in both methods.

accreditation_stampAnother important factor is accreditation. Some of the reasons behind the bad reputations of online schools are that a lot of unknown schools suddenly cropped up offering degrees, yet have weak or no real accreditation. This is extremely important if you plan on furthering your education down the road by getting a second degree or going for a Masters or Doctorate. In that case, it is important that the online school have regional and/or national accreditation. You don’t want to start from square one again because your future school does not recognize your previous education.

Pros as I see it for traditional schooling:

  1. Students will be accountable for showing up (something they must learn to become a good employee)
  2. Learning to work with peers (also important as an employee)
  3. One on one face time with instructors
  4. Social aspects of physically being with other students
  5. And for the many that go away to school, learning what it is like to live on your own for the first time

Cons of traditional schooling:

  1. Living on campus or in an apartment is a costly added expense
  2. Transportation if not living on campus: If you choose to live at home with the folks as I did while I was attending The Art Institute, I had a 3 hour round trip on the Rapid Transit System to get to and from school. I often found myself up until 3 a.m. working on homework to make up for lost hours, then I was up again at 5 a.m. to catch the bus for school. You could not miss class or you would be docked points. To sum it up, a lot less sleep. Yes—sleep is important to me.
  3. If you need to work, there is also the issue of getting from work to school
  4. Missing school because of work

elearningPros about online schooling:

  1. If you are comfortable with a computer, you will have no trouble getting around on an online schooling system
  2. More time for assignments by not losing time commuting to and from campus and/or work
  3. More school choices since you do not need to move to the school’s locale. With a fast internet connection, students can attend school virtually anywhere in the world

Cons about online schools:

  1. Still not taken seriously enough by many employers
  2. Less accountability for time, increasing the need for personal time management
  3. Not being able to attend live events
  4. Can’t get any face-to-face time with instructors and need to depend on email contact
  5. Less social
  6. Many do not have regional accreditation

I found that I was very social in my online courses. But that is also my personality. I like to reach out to instructors and other students. But if you are more of an introvert, a lot will be lost by attending an online school.

In addition, I feel that education is more than just a method of delivery; and, technology is in no way a shortcut to getting a degree. It’s an investment that should be made wisely.

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Laura Malick Smith is the Principal Creative at ChikenSkratch Studio (formerly Digitaldemiurge). She has over 25 years experience in design including print, web and illustration, holds a degree from the Art Institute of Colorado and has been know to enjoy a lively discussion or two.

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