Types of Learning
Certifications, diplomas, degrees and accreditation information for students
As you're researching online learning programs, you will encounter options that lead to a wide range of certifications, diplomas and degree designations. It is very important to understand where your program culminates, particularly if you're seeking professional training for entry into a new career. Many such programs do not lead to degrees, and you want to make sure your certification or diploma is recognized by potential employers and any professional institutes which may control accreditation of people working in your chosen field.
Certifications and Diplomas
If you are enrolling in an online program solely because you want to learn a new skill or explore your interest in a particular topic, you don't need to worry too much about certifications the program leads to. However, if you're training for a new career and you're enrolling in a certificate or diploma program, it is important to determine two things:
- Whether you need to meet specific educational or training requirements to become a licensed practitioner in your chosen field
- Whether or not an online learning program you're considering is recognized by professional boards or organizations which govern your chosen field
For example, if you've decided to pursue a new career as a real estate agent, you will need to be licensed by your state or province's real estate board in order to legally practice your new profession. Thus, you need to make sure that your training program is recognized by the governing body responsible for accrediting newly trained professionals in your field.
If you're not sure whether or not a specific online school's program is recognized by a given professional board or governing body, the easiest thing to do is contact them and check. Should you determine that a particular school you've been considering is not recognized by that organization, ask them for a list of online schools that lead to recognized credentials.
With degree programs, the due diligence process is a little different. Before you complete your registration and pay your tuition, you should make sure the online school you're signing up with is accredited. This means that the degrees the institution bestows on its graduates are valid and nationally recognized. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of accredited institutions; if you have any doubts as to whether or not a particular school is accredited, simply check with them or the equivalent government agency in your country.
There are two types of degrees: undergraduate and graduate. Undergraduate degrees are granted at the introductory level, whereas graduate degrees are granted to students who have already completed their foundational education and have chosen to pursue an academic discipline at a higher level.
There are two types of undergraduate degrees:
- Associate's degree. This is a relatively new degree designation, created in part to meet changing student needs precipitated by the online learning revolution. An Associate's degree can typically be earned in one to two years, and is considered a type of "junior" degree. You should be aware that Associate's degrees are not recognized by all educational institutions, so carefully research your options if you are planning to continue your studies at a higher level.
- Baccalaureate or Bachelor's degree. The Baccalaureate or Bachelor's degree is the traditional undergraduate degree. They can typically be completed in three to four years and qualify students to continue at the Master's degree level.
Similarly, there are two types of graduate degrees:
- Master's degree. If you choose to continue your studies after earning your Bachelor's degree, you will enter a Master's degree program. Some Master's degree designations, such as the Master of Fine Arts (MFA), are considered "terminal degrees," since they represent the highest degree is it possible to earn in the field.
- Doctorate degree. Also known as a Ph.D., this is the highest degree designation you can achieve in an academic field.
It is possible to continue your studies beyond the Ph.D. level, it what is known as "postdoctoral studies." However, postdoctoral studies do not lead to additional degrees; rather, they are usually undertaken by professorial candidates seeking to broaden the scope of their credentials.