Dr. Dominic Caraccilo, Master of Business Administration faculty member, discusses online learning and how the coronavirus pandemic could shift perceptions of degrees earned from online schools.

''Distance learning has been around for decades, and many online universities make it possible to earn a high-quality college degree from the comfort of your own home. While countless professionals have used their online education to excel in their careers, some employers still wonder if degrees earned from online schools are as valid as bachelor’s or master’s degrees earned from traditional brick-and-mortar universities and colleges.

As COVID-19 forces education at all levels online, employers will likely see a significant jump in the number of job applicants who have earned or completed a degree online. This raises the question: Will the increase in online learning during COVID-19 change the way employers and others perceive the validity of an online education?

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For insight on the topic, we turned to Dr. Dominic Caraccilo, a faculty member at Walden University, an accredited school that offers more than 80 online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Dr. Caraccilo teaches in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) online degree program in Walden’s School of Management.

What are the advantages of online or distance learning?

Dr. Caraccilo: Earning a degree through distance learning or online gives you a number of benefits: You can fit your learning around your work and home life. You get to decide exactly when and where you study. You can gain a degree from anywhere in the world.

When it comes to quality, how does an education from an online school compare to that from brick-and-mortar colleges and universities?

Dr. Caraccilo: Numerous studies have found distance and online learning courses as effective as traditional classroom training—or better. Almost a third of academic leaders recently surveyed felt online education outcomes were superior to those in traditional learning environments.1

Of course, like other learning institutes, an online school must be accredited. You take a serious risk when you pursue distance learning programs from institutions that are not accredited because they may be issuing fraudulent, invalid degrees.

Online learning seems like a convenient way to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree—especially for busy working professionals who want to open new career opportunities by advancing their college education. Are there any disadvantages to getting a college education online?

Dr. Caraccilo: Historically, the No. 1 disadvantage that some believe is that it may not be acknowledged by a specific employer or accepted as valid by other schools of higher education. Although most employers do acknowledge distance learning, certain employers do not. Students who want to work for a specific employer upon graduation should be sure of that employer's perspective about online education.

To slow the spread of disease during the COVID-19 pandemic, many brick-and-mortar colleges and universities have implemented a coronavirus prevention strategy that requires moving in-person classes to an online learning platform. How might this surge in online learning change the way employers and others perceive online degrees?

Dr. Caraccilo: Up until now, the challenge for the online university has been to gain and maintain a level of respect as it competes with the resident-type colleges and universities. With the onset of COVID-19, the battlefield has changed.

Every state in the U.S. has either ordered or recommended the closure of a full spectrum of schools, ranging from elementary school to graduate studies. To help stem the dramatic loss of learning time for students, most schools, colleges, and universities are embarking on an effort to deliver long-term remote instruction. This requirement all but abolishes if not erases the competition between online and resident-type schools.

Is it fair to say that established online schools now have a competitive edge over other colleges and universities who aren’t as experienced in delivering online degree programs?

Dr. Caraccilo: The online schools—having had the head start at perfecting remote learning—have an advantage as the brick-and-mortar universities scramble to meet the mark that schools like Walden University have met for decades.

As the tables turn, perhaps the gap that existed—perceived or not—may close, and as the doors to resident schools open once again, perhaps schools like Walden University will be marching in step, if not step ahead. While COVID has been devastating to many education requirements, especially at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, it may have had an indirect advantageous long-term outcome to schools of higher learning.

Dr. Dominic Caraccilo is a contributing faculty member in Walden’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) online degree program. A retired officer of the U.S. Army, Dr. Caraccilo has extensive executive leadership and management experience at companies including Amazon and Facebook. He is currently a principal at Parsons Corporation.

Walden University has provided distance learning for 50 years and began pioneering online education 25 years ago. Today, the accredited university offers over 80 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs online with more than 300 specializations and concentrations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

1Source: https://www.babson.edu/about/news-events/babson-announcements/2012-survey-of-online-learning-results/#

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