Distance-Learning Programs

Individuals who aspire to a career as a counselor can be students or working professionals, recent college graduates or trained workers interested in a mid-life career change. Regardless of their background, students can take advantage of any number of distance learning programs to complete the coursework that is necessary for earning a degree or certification in counseling.

Many counseling professions require the individual to possess a master’s degree from an accredited college or from some other recognized master’s degree program. After completing four years of college, many people enter the workforce so that they can gain experience and income to pay their bills. At some point, these aspiring counselors make the decision to return to school. They must now choose a school or program that meets their needs, which, in many cases is a counseling program that is available in a distance-learning format.

  • Obtaining a master’s degree via a distance-learning program works for those students who are unable to attend classes on-site due to time or distance limitations. Additionally, these students can choose their distance-learning program from a very large pool of academic programs, perhaps from an educational institution they might not otherwise be able to attend. These students can complete coursework around their own schedule, and they may even do so with much more motivation than they would if they were scheduled to take classes in a formal classroom setting. A distance-learning program facilitates communication with instructors and professors by using e-mail and internet chat rooms. Financially, distance learning can be more economical because the student does not have to drive to and park at a facility for class.

Students who enroll in a distance-learning master’s program for counseling should also understand that their full counseling program typically includes supervised clinical work experience, which can only be completed in an actual healthcare facility. While the student can complete much of the work required for their master’s degree in counseling in a distance-learning environment, they cannot complete the entire program in this way.

National counselor certification can also be obtained by taking distance learning courses that meet the National Board for Certified Counselors requirements. Again, the counselor can take these continuing education courses on a flexible basis around his own schedule. Distance learning offers great benefits, as long as students understand all the pros and cons associated with obtaining their degree or certification in this manner.

Factors to Consider

Distance-Learning Programs

In light of changes in technology and education requirements, distance learning continually grows and evolves. Today, any number of distance-learning courses and programs are available to help individuals fulfill academic requirements for continuing education, degree, and certification programs. Counselors and aspiring counselors can also complete a portion of their training and education via a distance- learning environment. Before choosing a distance-learning program, however, there are several factors to keep in mind.

First and foremost, convenience and flexibility are the two most obvious considerations. Students can take classes when they need them, and not be forced into a school’s fixed course schedule. Further, with no set class schedule or time, the student can complete the necessary assignments on his own time, at his own pace. This allows the student to control his own learning environment.

The internet has made online and distance-learning courses readily available from virtually any educational institution. Courses can be available wherever you have computer access. Classes are taught using online platforms such as live streaming or recorded videos that the student watches. Students who are working toward a counseling degree or counselor certification need to be certain that whatever online or distance courses they take are accredited and reputable. Accreditation is important so that the student is assured that his distance-education program meets professional and industry standards and also qualifies the student for financial aid.

Another consideration is the availability of the instructor or professor. Distance learning does not allow for direct, personalized time and attention from instructors. Students typically communicate with instructors via e-mail or an online chat environment. In addition, because the classroom is virtual, the student is responsible for finding his own learning and examination resources.

Many students are concerned with the cost of their education. Distance-learning studies are a more economical way for a student to earn a degree or certificate since there is no expense for traveling to and from school, no expense for living on or near a college campus, and no additional living expenses. The student just pays for the cost of courses and books.

Students who enter programs to become counselors usually already have their bachelor’s degree, but can complete work toward their master’s degree via a distance learning program. If the student is able to take a full course load, the program can usually be completed in two years; if not, it will take longer. Some of the distance learning courses with master’s programs available for counseling include family therapy counseling, school counseling, and rehabilitative counseling. It is important for the student to understand, however, that he must complete a certain number of supervised clinical work hours as part of his master’s degree program; work that cannot be completed through a distance-learning program.

Those individuals who are already practicing counselors can also take continuing education courses through a distance-learning program. These courses can count toward their counselor certification and licensure. Distance-learning credits can also be applied toward a counselor’s continuing education for recertification, which, depending on the type of counselor, must occur every several years. Through distance learning, an individual can also prepare for state or national examinations by reviewing test requirements, taking tutorials, and using sample examinations.

Meeting counselor certification requirements through a distance-learning program is a relatively easy way for the counseling professional to increase his professional and educational credentials, which thereby increases opportunities for advancement.

Computer Equipment Needed

Distance education has many benefits for those who opt to study in this type of learning environment. Online distance learning gives students increased access to classes and coursework without scheduling or distance constraints. Online distance learning allows the student to work alone or in a group, taking computer classes and submitting assignments via e-mail. Distance and online learning give the student ready access to online databases and information, all of which allow the student to efficiently locate articles and research information. All of these benefits mean nothing, however, if the student does not have the proper computer equipment to support this type of learning environment.

Advances in technology and telecommunications have contributed to a boon in distance learning options. The integration of voice, data, and video systems, as well as the use of satellite and internet technology have all increased and improved distance education availability and access, presenting opportunities to students and educators of all ages and levels. Students can obtain virtually any type of degree or certification through a distance education program. For example, much of a degreed counselor’s coursework can be done online. This includes a master’s degree in counseling and counselor certification studies. The only work that cannot be performed online is the counselor’s required clinical work.

Various media are used in distance learning. The simplest remote teaching method is a telephone conference call which requires the student to have nothing more than a good telephone connection in order to be able to hear what is being presented and participate in discussions. Most common, however, are online courses taken over the internet. The student should have a high-speed internet connection to be able to access courses, an e-mail account, and a printer. A high-speed internet connection is also appropriate for video-conference learning environments. During a video conference, the instructor is able to present course information to all meeting participants. The students can see and/or hear the instructor as they teach. In some instances, all class participants will have their own video or camera connection and microphone, so that when one student speaks, the other students are able to hear and view that student from their own computers with the video and audio focusing on the next class participant who speaks from his own location. In a distance-learning environment, the classroom is only as far away as the student’s computer and printer.

Internet

All students today are expected to own computers and have internet and e-mail access. Students and educators alike rely on the internet for a myriad of learning resources. Colleges have their own web sites where prospective students can obtain complete information about programs of study, majors, and campus life. Many students seek to obtain their education in a virtual classroom environment, meaning that their main education resource is an online college degree program. The internet allows interactive video and remote class participation and email exchanges between students and instructors, including a fast, effective means for submitting class assignments.

At present, most students continue to use traditional learning resources such as textbooks. However, extensive resources are also readily available on the internet. The only key to using internet resources is to ensure that they are authentic and valid. Educators and educational institutions are now expanding the use of the internet beyond that of just a learning tool. Oftentimes, tests and examinations are administered over the internet. Students can use a school’s automated internet registration function to sign up for classes or pay bills. Instructors can also post-test and class results online, accessible only by the individual student.

While there are many benefits to learning over the internet, a student may face some potential disadvantages as well. For example, students studying to become counselors can take much of their continuing education classes via an online program. Online classes can count toward their master’s degree or counselor certification. However, these students must also complete a specific number of hours of supervised clinical work that must be done in a live setting. Another disadvantage to using the internet for learning is that the student will not be able to have direct, face-to-face communication with their instructor; communications must occur via a chat, through email, or over the telephone. Some course content also requires a lot of computer bandwidth, so the student must have sufficient computer equipment and internet connection speed to handle the course content or class application without delay.

Learning over the internet requires the student to be proactive, motivated, and self-directing. No longer is the student sitting in a classroom passively receiving information from someone who is talking to/at them; rather, the internet student must be fully “on” and engaged in the online learning environment. Prospective online students must determine if that particular learning environment that will be most beneficial and supportive of their learning style.

Software

Distance learning environments are becoming more and more common. With benefits such as convenience and flexibility of class, study, and examination times, as well as taking courses from an accredited educational institution without ever having to set foot on campus, prospective and existing students alike are opting for distance education to meet all or part of their graduation requirements. In the case of those students pursuing a career in counseling, they can complete online courses that can be applied toward their master’s degree and/or counselor certification.

Students and educators alike can benefit from software programs that have been specially designed to meet all the requirements of a distance-learning environment. Software that provides an effective distance-learning environment should be able to perform specific functions. It should:

  1. allow for multiple instructors, presenters, or subject matter experts to teach, whether they are in the same physical location or not;
  2. allow for a virtual classroom environment where multiple students attend class at the same time in an interactive or on-demand environment;
  3. allow for individual learning, where coursework is available to an individual’s desk- or laptop computer on an interactive or on-demand basis;
  4. support a variety of course delivery methods including teleconferencing, satellite, on-demand, interactive web, etc.;
  5. allow for interactive collaboration among students and instructors;
  6. provide student registration, accounting, and support functions;
  7. allow students and instructors to track individual progress; and
  8. be available using any internet-connected device.

Distance learning should be more about the software than about the hardware the student uses. The program software should accommodate all types of instructor- student communication and meet a variety of learning styles. Because learners come from diverse age groups and backgrounds, the distance learning program should be intuitive, user-friendly, and tailored to its typical audience.

Time Required

One of the primary benefits to enrolling in a distance learning program is the student’s ability to manage and pace his own education to meet individual learning requirements. While the concept of distance learning is not new, advances in technology make it an increasingly popular way for individuals to obtain or complete post-secondary, continuing education, or graduate degree credits. Students can complete coursework from virtual/online education programs or from “brick and mortar” institutions that offer their own online learning programs.

Online or distance learning allows a student to complete coursework, submit assignments, and take examinations on his own schedule. Consider the student who already has a four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology and who is interested in pursuing graduate studies to become a counselor. This individual may not be able to afford to remain in school on a full-time basis for another two-to-three years needed for a master’s degree, but must, instead, get a job to pay the bills. By enrolling in an online program, he can obtain the credits needed for the master’s degree or counselor certification, but do so in a way that is convenient for him.

Online programs offer the student great flexibility and convenience in terms of when they can study and take courses. Students can take courses and submit assignments at midnight if they so choose! In an on-campus semester system, the student can only take courses that are offered at a particular time. In an online learning environment, courses may be offered much more frequently, allowing the student to register for a course that meets his personal availability.

Some students are able to take online courses on a full-time basis. In this case, the timeline to complete an online degree coincides with the timeline to complete a degree by attending classes on a university campus. In general, students should be able to complete an online associate’s degree program in two years, a bachelor’s degree in four to five years, and then a master’s degree in another two to three years, depending on the individual’s program requirements. An online doctorate degree can take another four to five years to complete. Students taking online continuing education, professional certification, or licensing courses will be required to study an additional number of “contact hours” per qualified course, in some cases an additional one or two years may be needed to obtain certification.

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