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Carefully research online programs. Here are some resources that will get you started.

Dear Molly: What are your thoughts on online degree programs–in particular, the information technology degrees offered by many online universities? Are these universities nothing more than correspondence schools? How are they looked at by employers? Are they really teaching what is required by the industry?

Molly says: I don’t see any problem with online learning, particularly for IT jobs. In fact, I think that online learning opportunities will skyrocket over the next decade for many reasons (a shortage of good teachers and the cost of keeping up physical plants of large campuses being a couple). I’ve read estimates that the market will be as high as $7 billion by the end of the next few years.

In terms of getting value for money, there is no substitute for doing your homework (pun intended) and researching the educational institutions’ reputations and credentials. There are many reputable online learning organizations that have been around for decades and delivering electronic courses all that time.

There are also many universities and colleges offering certification and accredited undergraduate and graduate courses online. Many of the courses they offer online provide the same content, and sometimes the same instructors, as the courses delivered on campus.

As to whether employers think online learning is a viable alternative to onsite learning, just think about the thousands of companies that are now using online learning for their current employees. It’s a hot new trend for corporate training because people don’t have to interrupt their schedules as much or pay for travel. If companies didn’t think it works, they wouldn’t be doing it.

If you opt to go with a distance education organization that does not bear the name of a well-known educational institution, be prepared to tell the potential employer you are talking to a little bit about the organization. A few sentences about why you went with that organization and why it’s a good place should do it.

To learn more about the topic of distance learning, check out the materials on the National Education Association Web site. To search for a distance learning organization that teaches what you’re looking for, a good starting place is a site called OnlineLearning.net. You can also try searching for online learning IT course offerings by visiting the Web sites of colleges and universities. There are also lots of independent training organizations that offer online learning opportunities, including ProsoftTraining.com.

Molly Joss also writes the monthly Career Advisor column for ComputerUser magazine. Ask a career-related question at [email protected]

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