Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let Me Take You To School

Are you in search of a quality post-graduate education? Are you unwilling to quit your job? Do you cringe at the thought of spending even more time in traffic rushing to school in the evenings or giving up your weekends and vacations for two years for a part time masters programme? Do you want to avoid putting yourself through the same issues you faced as an undergraduate – unavailable lecturers, strikes, outdated material? Then you should considering getting your degree on the Internet.

The Internet is a magnificent tool for learning and most of us use it that way everyday. Whether it is getting information to help us on the job, reading the news or researching in Wikipedia, we use the Internet to broaden our minds and enrich our knowledge of the world around us. More and more of us are now using the Internet to get a formal education. Many educational institutions are offering full degree awarding programs on the Internet and they are as good as the more traditional classroom based programs.

These are foreign schools of course. I know of no Nigerian institutions offering online programmes. However, the National Open University of Nigeria, is worth keeping an eye on because the institution has embraced the web as a medium providing freely downloadable course material. For now, I am focusing on institutions where you can begin a programme and at the end of it you get an education and a certificate.

One of the best known is the University of Phoenix Online. It is one of the earlier institutions to aggressively offer online university education and over the years have developed a wide range of courses which can be taken in the online format. Phoenix is an American university and consequently, and unfortunately, you will come up against American University qualification requirements. This means, for a post-graduate program, you will probably be required to take the TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language (never mind the fact that English is our official language in Nigeria). In addition, depending on the programme, you would probably have to take GMAT or GRE to qualify. Most inconvenient of all, you may have to go back to your Alma Mater (UNILAG, UNIBEN, OAU, UI or whatever other school you went to) and get the school itself to mail your transcript to a third party in the US who will evaluate your transcript and then ship it to the school you applied to. For those who have had to navigate through the warrens of their school's Senate houses to get his done, it is no fun.

Another school becoming quite popular for Nigerian post-graduate degree seekers is the University of Liverpool Online. I should know. I am nearly an alumnus of the school and have three colleagues, and several former classmates who have independently taken programmes at Liverpool. Liverpool offers a much more limited list of programmes than Phoenix does, but it has the main ones Nigerians go for: various MBAs, Information Technology, Human Resources and Supply Chain Management programmes. I would recommend it for several reasons. The entry requirements are very simple, you get a full education, you have several flexible payment mechanisms, you work at your own pace, and it has been in the top 100 universities in the world.

These two and a host of other schools offer different degree awarding programmes. Some, like Liverpool and Phoenix offer full online programmes. You never need to go a physical classroom anywhere. Liverpool, as a matter of fact, doesn’t even have any real time classes. You can log on to the classroom at your own preferred time within the confines of the defined school week. Other schools have mixed programmes which include an online programme with some physical classroom components. It doesn't even have exams. Everything is based on continuous assesment. Now if you get the idea that this makes it less rigorous a programme, you are very very mistaken. You might actually get to do more assignments and more projects than all your previous education combined.

Of course, some people may want the education without shelling out the money to get the certificate or may already have the certificates and just want to keep themselves on the cutting edge of their professions. Well you can be lectured by the professors of such institutions as Harvard, MIT and Yale and have access to their course material for free.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a system called OpenCourseWare where you have access to full course material from MIT. Apple’s ITunes software has what it calls ITunes U where you can get a rich variety of material from America's top univerities that you can download to your computer, iPod or Iphone. Lastly, and I just discovered this today, there is a brand new site called Academic Earth which aggregates free educational material from a large variety of sources. Don’t for a moment imagine that this material is dry academic material. A lot of it is valuable information from internationally renown leaders in the fields you may be interested in including business and technology.

Today’s Internet is a rich source of academically sound educational programmes. Don’t just use it for YouTube and music downloads. It might just help you get the education you always wished you had and all from the comfort of your home PC.


What do you think it will take for Nigerian schools to deliver rich educational content online? How do we ensure that, like so many things in this country, it is not spoilt by cheats and the corrupt? Drop me a line.