Learning Online

Internet educational opportunities have opened new doors for many officers
Posted: June 16th, 2006 01:38 AM PDT

Remember those matchbook covers that offered "draw-me" scholarship contests? The "winner" then got to pay for art lessons from a correspondence school.

Distance education has come a long way since then. In the last decade, it has become a rapidly expanding way for many people to earn legitimate college degrees.

Distance learning works especially well for law enforcement professionals, whose schedules can be unpredictable and involve unanticipated overtime.

Just as officers often sacrifice attending important family events because of their work schedules, many have been restricted in their ability to attend traditional college courses, especially if they work rotating shifts. Having to work just one emergency situation can sometimes wipe out a semester's worth of work, forcing an otherwise good student to drop or fail a class.

Technology to the rescue
Distance learning has changed all that. The advent of the Computer Age has enabled education to be made available on an on-demand basis, rather than at a set time, in a set place. Distance education has actually been around since the 1940s, when broadcast, and later, cable television was used to deliver education. Later on, satellite teleconferences were utilized to link students in various places for unified instruction.

In the 1990s, the widespread acquisition of personal computers by individuals, combined with greater access to the Internet, brought distance education into a new era. In the period between September 2003 and January 2004 alone, distance education enrollment increased nearly 28 percent.

Education options
For law enforcement professionals, the options for distance learning are many. More than three dozen colleges offer certificate programs, or associate's, bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. degrees in criminal justice and related areas. (See "Finding distance learning colleges and verifying accreditation" on Page 89.).

Others, like Keiser College, supplement their brick-and-mortar classes with online offerings. The Florida-based institution has offered distance education for 10 years, but began using an electronic platform in 1999. The number of distance learners has grown explosively, beginning with five students and rising to the present number of 2,300.

"We started offering criminal justice on campus six years ago," says Dr. Arthur Keiser, co-founder and chancellor of the Keiser Collegiate System. "We were a primarily technology-driven institution, and adapted the criminal justice programs to provide distance education. Then, with the events of 9/11, there was increased awareness and increased demand for these subjects by students," he adds.
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