Distance education experts agree that most online degree programs exceed traditional programs because of their great benefits. Foremost of these are the learning convenience online programs provide students and the fast access to faculty and other students. It is convenient in the sense that students can learn and do research at their own pace even in the comfort of their home with just the aid of a computer. There’s no need to visit a real library, search through thick books and research materials including previous theses done by PhD students and copy them by hand or through a photocopy machine.
Distance learning students also find most valuable the flexibility in schedules as there is not fixed date for classes, no travel time and the variety of online services available on the Internet. In fact, a study done at the Liberty University showed that graduates of distance counseling program performed better than the residential students on licensing exams. The school, however, does not claim that its distance learning program is at par with its residential program saying that the learning gained by students depends much on the efforts they put into their studies regardless of how the teaching is done.
Another great benefit of online PhD is the opportunity to communicate virtually with leading experts in the chosen field and ask questions about various aspects of their study. Whereas outside of the Internet, in the real world, PhD students would not be able to get this chance of interacting with specialists.
On the academic aspect, online degrees do not tend to be easier than traditional
education because they are equally rigid and in many cases more difficult. However, it is believed that the training in research, theory making and problem solving is more likely to be better online than that done through academic supervision. A good example is the online training on research skills using computer software that provide tutorials, help and advice. Online management of research training also proves to be more efficient what with many current facilities that help manage educational, assessment, knowledge management as well as research training and procedures. Take for instance the Cognos, SAP, ARIS and Blackboard. Improvements are also being made within universities to automate some practical aspects of supervision methods.
Meanwhile, research training done through online systems has its own relevance. Discussion groups online or offline like the bulletin boards, email lists, newsgroups, chatrooms and online conferencing provide additional support for PhD education. Many universities have carried out their own modes of electronic discussion. In the U.K., for instance, the Jiscmail (www.Jiscmail.ac.uk) now includes hundreds of academic discussion lists which are open for participation by doctorate students while some are meant for use by PhD candidates.
Studies have also shown that subjects concerning research methods are better conveyed online because of its advantages over traditional face-to-face methods. In this manner coupled with online discussion group and expert support, students can enhance their skills in research methods at the right time. They are able to better manage their time and coursework while at the same time improving their expertise in methods related to their chosen research topic.
On the contrary, online PhD study has its own challenges. During the course of the study, problems may crop up without notice such as technical malfunction, privacy and confidentiality issues and perhaps, a slower progress of a student-mentor relationship compared to a face-to-face setting.Browse our index of Online Schools and Phd Programs