Higher education: Online Learning and Program Selection: The Basics

A s you consider promotion to the next rank within your organization or a leadership position in a different organization, you may have questions such as: How have I prepared for this new opportunity? What can I do to ensure success in the assessment...


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A s you consider promotion to the next rank within your organization or a leadership position in a different organization, you may have questions such as: How have I prepared for this new opportunity? What can I do to ensure success in the assessment, hiring and testing process? How can I perform better than the other potential candidates? What knowledge, skills, abilities, experience and cognitive understanding do I bring to the process and offer my potential new employer?

As you review job openings, position announcements and leadership descriptions from across the world of fire science, you will likely repeatedly see statements such as these: “four-year degree or equivalent in fire science, emergency management, public administration, business administration or related advanced education in the fire-EMS or emergency management fields”; “bachelor’s degree in fire science, public administration, business management or similar discipline”; or “graduation from an accredited college or university with a bachelor’s degree in public or business administration, fire science or a closely related field, a graduate degree is preferred.”

In a career in fire and emergency services, leading members and effectively managing the organization are key components to long-term success. To that end, a degree may help increase your understanding, knowledge and abilities in areas such as leadership, management, evaluating community risk, strategy and tactics, budgeting, policy analysis and the legal and ethical aspects of the fire and emergency services.

While the degree is important, and perhaps crucial, to career advancement, for many people the pace and schedule of daily life is busy and somewhat inflexible. For many students, and especially those with multiple job, family and life commitments, online learning may be a welcome option.

In years past, before the prevalence of Internet access, distance learning consisted of correspondence college-level courses in which students and instructors would mail one another course work, assignments and examinations. Now, with extensive access and support, students with careers, families and other claims on their time can still attend courses and earn degrees online in ways that may not be feasible with “brick and mortar” institutions. According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) report, The Condition of Education 2011, in 2007-2008, about 4.3 million undergraduate students (approximately 20% of all undergraduates), took at least one distance education course. Additionally, approximately 800,000 took their entire program through distance education. The report also states that the percentage of undergraduates who took any distance education courses increased from 16% in 2003-2004 to 20% in 2007-2008. Currently, it is estimated that nearly 12 million U.S. college students are taking some or all of their classes online, with this number estimated to increase to more than 22 million in the next five years, according to data released by the research firm Ambient Insight.

 

Understanding online learning

For those in the fire and emergency sciences, there are numerous benefits to choosing online learning as a means of earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree:

• Access. Access to learning may be via live webinars/webcasts, videoconferencing, pre-recorded instructional videos or computer-based platforms accessed through the Internet. Students are provided with the opportunity to learn in the comfort of their home or the firehouse. In fully online courses, students can earn degrees without any requirement to regularly travel to the “brick and mortar” institution.

• Pace. In online learning, students may complete courses at their pace, further supporting the balance between education, life, family and the firehouse. Also, many online programs do not require a minimum course load in order to remain a current full-time or part-time student.

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