Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Distance Learning for High Schoolers

Truly, many roads lead to Rome ... and to successful receipt of a diploma.

I myself am no stranger to "distance learning," a popular buzz-phrase signifying the earning of full academic credit for structured, supervised independent study work done outside the physical walls of a major educational institution. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree back in the early 1980's from the State University of New York at Albany while enrolled in the Regents External Degrees Program, which was at the time one of only two fully accredited external degree programs in the United States. I remember with fondness teaching myself calculus and studying the history of mathematics though college-level correspondence courses administered by the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) and Brigham Young University (BYU).

In the old days, this meant learning on one's own from an approved textbook, completing assignments on paper, mailing them to the instructor for grading and comments, and then ultimately taking a proctored final exam to receive credit for the course. Nowadays, distance learning courses are typically conducted online, since the miracle of the internet makes possible a much richer and more efficient flow of educational content and course work between student and instructor. But the idea is essentially the same: independent study, followed by submission of course work, followed by assessment and finally the granting of credit.

Over the course of my 29 year career as a professional academic coach, tutor, and mentor, I've occasionally been hired to help high school students raise an unacceptable grade or earn additional course credits by completed various accredited distance learning courses offered through prestigious institutions such as UCB and BYU. These courses offer many advantages over typical high school classes taken during the academic year at school (e.g. being able to work at one's own pace, polish and perfect one's course work before submission and grading, study subjects outside the standard high school curriculum, etc.), and generally grant full academic credit to students completing them. Nevertheless, it's very important to first obtain written approval from your school before enrolling for credit in any distance learning course, to be sure that credits and grades earned will be fully accepted by your school.

Serious independent study work such as this both demands and fosters greater than average self-discipline, motivation, and organization, and requires real commitment of the part of all concerned ... but can be an excellent way to supplement or improve one's academic resume and develop qualities of independence, pro-activity, and responsibility so critical to success in college and beyond. Nevertheless, it may still be a good idea to secure the services of an academic coach or other capable adult to supervise distance learning courses to make sure that timely progress is being made and important deadlines are met. You've got to be committed and follow through ... but if you're a motivated, self-starter who reads well and wants or needs extra academic credit or stimulation, online or other distance learning courses may be just what you're looking for!

Below are links to accredited distance learning opportunities offered to high school students by UCB and BYU:


UC Berkeley Extension Online



BYU Independent Study



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