How to evaluate flexible degree programs: 5 key questions

July 1, 2015

Flexibility is a primary reason why many adult students choose to pursue a degree online.

You don’t have to drive to campus to attend class. Meetings with fellow students or your instructors can be done virtually. And much of the work can be done anytime you please. Except for participating in class, nothing is on a fixed schedule.

Increasingly, education providers are offering the opportunity to skip class, too. You still do the work, of course, but the learning is self-paced. You can skim material you already know and focus on skills and competencies that you need to learn. Sounds great, right? But not all self-paced programs work the same way. And not all of them deliver a degree that’s respected by employers.

As flexible programs emerge, it’s worth asking some key questions before diving in and investing your time and money. Here are five key areas to explore—and information on how Capella University’s self-paced option, FlexPath, measures up.

1. Is it accredited?

Accreditation is the gold standard for quality in education. It is the result of independent analysis by a group of individuals who evaluate whether an educational program is delivering value to students. What’s more, employers value degrees from accredited institutions.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, one of the six regional accreditors in the U.S. Capella’s FlexPath was the first direct assessment degree pathway to be approved by both the US Department of Education and the university’s regional accreditor.

Some of Capella’s academic offerings have also earned specialized accreditations. The MBA and BS in Business specializations, which are offered through FlexPath, are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

2. Does the self-paced program provide the kind of knowledge, abilities, and skills employers are looking for?

You want a degree you can put to use immediately. You want to impress your current employer with what you’ve learned, or prepare yourself for work at another company or in another field altogether. You need a self-paced program that delivers the right skills.

Professional alignment and application is one of FlexPath’s key features. Gathering information from experts, employers, and other trusted sources, Capella develops a picture of the skills most needed to thrive in the workplace. Curriculum developers then reverse-engineer that information to design courses that focus on those skills and tests that indicate students’ likely success at executing employer-identified tasks in the actual workplace

3. How is your knowledge tested in the program?

It’s unlikely you’d encounter an essay question, multiple choice test, or standardized exam in the course of your everyday job. Such evaluation methods aren’t used in FlexPath. Rather, competency in key skills and concepts is demonstrated through authentic assessments. Such assessments are based on real-world tasks, with context and deliverables that you would expect to find in a contemporary workplace.

And because authentic assessments are rooted in the real world, they’re meant to be immediately applicable to the work you’d do in your job.

4. What are the qualifications of the faculty?

Good instructors in online education have professional experience as well as academic training. Their experience inside and outside the classroom gives them perspective that’s valuable to adult students who desire to apply their learning from the classroom to their work in the world.

Like all Capella faculty, FlexPath faculty members are academically qualified and have a strong record of work experience. And above all, they’re committed to students’ success.

5. How fast can you move through the self-paced program?

The term self-paced suggests that you can accelerate through your learning, moving as slowly or as quickly through a curriculum as you desire. For those who wish to move fast, there’s a potential speed bump you should consider: How quickly will your assessments be turned around?

All assessments are reviewed by FlexPath instructors, and you can expect a response within 48 hours or less. So you won’t have to wait long to get feedback on whether your learning is on-track or not.

You also have access to your FlexPath Coach, who will support your progress through your program.

Learn more about FlexPath.

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