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Interview: Gordon Drummond, CLO, Sessions Online Schools of Art and Design

Gordon Drummond, Chief Learning Officer at Sessions Online Schools of Art and Design joins us today to discuss distance learning.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Sessions Online Schools of Art and Design.

Sessions is an online school of the creative visual arts. We offer courses and certificate programs in graphic design, Web design, multimedia, digital arts, business marketing design, and game art. Our students are typically adult learners aged 25-40 starting a career as a designer or digital artist. The certificate program is focused, flexible, and creatively challenging. Students build a portfolio of creative work as they progress through the program, getting feedback from a faculty from design professionals.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

The Sessions certificate programs are offered at different levels from Foundation to Advanced and Master's Certificate. For a student, that's a commitment ranging from 6 months to a year to as long as 36 months. We also offer individual courses on a continuing education basis, so you could take a course in anything from figure drawing to digital photography or game character animation, and complete it in one or two months.

It's also worth pointing out that in a self-paced learning environment, how fast you achieve your learning goals depends on you. Highly motivated students with available study time can complete a program in 6 months. Conversely, a student who likes to work at a leisurely pace can take his or her time and schedule school work around other life commitments.

What would you say makes Sessions Online Schools of Art and Design programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

Sessions has a number of exciting quality differentiators for prospective students. Number one, the quality of course content and the credentials of the faculty are excellent. You are taking creative courses that are designed to stretch you creatively and getting one to one mentoring from a faculty of professional designers and artists. Number two, our certificate programs let students focus 100% on creative coursework (with no "gen ed" requirements). Number three, the Sessions program is extremely cost-effective compared to a degree program or studying on a per-credit basis.

I think also Sessions offers a terrific education because we are an entirely online school, and we're solely focused on art and design. Many art schools with online design programs offer them a supplement to brick-and-mortar art programs, so their expertise (and interest) is not necessarily in online learning. Other purely online schools offer design programs as just one of a suite of products"along with accounting and MBA programs, for example"and their expertise is not in the visual arts. Our whole emphasis is on learning design, online.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online program?

Extremely important. Sessions is accredited by both the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council) and the Middle States Commission on Secondary Schools as well as licensed in New York and New Jersey. As education director at Sessions, I've experienced first hand just how important the accreditation process is in making sure an institution meets established standards both as a school and as a business. Except in a few exceptional cases, accreditation is a mark of quality.

There is some debate as to whether or not online programs are as worthwhile as traditional ones. What steps does Sessions Online Schools of Art and Design take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

My personal experience " and a great deal of academic research supports this " is that online classes can be just as successful as traditional classes, in terms of results, satisfaction, overall experience, and more. Rather than asking traditional versus online, a student should be asking how good is the school and the instructor, and/or how effectively will the class meet my goals? The quality of education online can vary greatly, but you can just as easily have a poor instructor in a traditional classroom.

Our approach at Sessions is not to replicate the traditional classroom but rather to try to find the best way to teach students online. Each class is crafted by a team working with a faculty members who are industry experts and great visual communicators, and we take care to make sure each class is challenging and exciting as well as appropriate in its goals.

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a certificate online rather than in a traditional classroom?

Studying online has some advantages that might surprise you. One surprise is that you can get a lot more personal attention studying online. A typical Photoshop student at Sessions might interact with the instructor 20-30 times during a class, through submitted assignments and questions. Live classes are typically one-to-many and don't always offer that level of personal interaction. Studying at your own pace on your own PC is another boon. Developing computer skills in a live classroom is always limited by the available hardware and the amount of time you have access to it. With an online program, you're learning on your own computer and studying when you want to.

A third benefit is that studying online forces you to be better written and visual communicator. You cannot hide in the back of the classroom " your work can be viewed by your instructor and your peers, and we challenge students to be able to discuss and defend their creative direction. This helps them develop communication skills that are important for a professional career.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

As an online school, Sessions has a tremendous reach " we have students across the U.S. and abroad. The downside of that is that we cannot offer students job placement with local employers. What we do offer however is a program that's focused on helping students put together a body of work that can help them land a creative job. That's extremely important in design, where a professional career depends more on the quality of your work and your ability to represent yourself well than say an academic qualification or a recommendation. Each Sessions student tracks all their creative work as they progress through a program in an online portfolio feature called MyGallery. Before graduating from the program, Advanced and Master's certificate students go through a portfolio review process where they hone a body of work for presentation to employers. Students are also able to take advantage of peer-to-peer networking at our community site DesignSessions.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Sessions students can take advantage of career training loans (Sallie Mae) as well as payment plans if needed.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

Keep an open mind and stay focused on your goals. Honor your commitment to your future by keeping your schedule free for your online classes. Get the most out of your instructors and fellow students by communicating clearly and constructively.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Sessions Online Schools of Art and Design?

That's a tough one. I really enjoy the fact that I get to work with extremely talented artists and designers. The challenge of creating better courses and programs never gets dull and I really feel like we are providing some extraordinary learning experiences. The other favorite aspect of my job is just enjoying the amazing work our students do. I am a lucky guy because there is no better job than mine in online education. (Though if you know of one, email me!)

To Request more information about the distance learning programs available through Sessions Online Schools of Art and Design, Go here to visit them online.

Thank you Gordon, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0

That concludes our interview!

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