Meeting increasing demand for distance education: post-secondary schools offer more eLearning options.

Author:Barbour, Tracy

Alaska's post-secondary institutions continue to expand their distance education offerings to keep pace with students' evolving needs and preferences.

Distance education--also called electronic learning or eLearning--carries a slightly different connotation for Alaska's colleges and universities. According to the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), eLearning is "planned learning that predominantly occurs in a situation where a student is not required to be in a fixed location." And distance education classes, which can be up to 50 percent location-based, have at least 50 percent of the course work available online.

Distance education combines a diversity of telecommunication tools and other technology. It takes on various forms at Alaska's post-secondary institutions and typically uses a mixed approach for eLearning courses. Institutions like UAA, Alaska Pacific University (APU), and Ilisagvik College offer everything from online courses and telecourses to traditional classes with a blend of eLearning components.

Here's a closer look at how UAA, APU, and Ijisagvik approach distance learning and the variety of courses they offer to help students enhance their education.

University of Alaska

The University of Alaska system is comprised of three main institutions: UAA, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), and University of Alaska Southeast (UAS). These three institutions that make up the UA system all have distinct models for eLearning.

UAA is the largest post-secondary institution in the University of Alaska system. With satellite campuses in Homer, Kodiak, Soldotna, Valdez, and Mat-Su, UAA strives to deliver eLearning courses that provide educational access, convenience, and flexibility to help students complete their degrees. And at a time of declining overall enrollment, both headcount and credit hours in eLearning courses continue to grow, according to UAA's 2016 eLearning Report. The report states: "The number of students enrolling in eLearning courses has increased steadily over the past five years. While total annual headcount at UAA declined 4.4 percent from AY 15 to AY 16, the headcount of students enrolling in at least one eLearning course increased 2.7 percent."

For the students, David Dannenberg, PhD, director of Academic Innovations and eLearning at UAA, says, the flexibility of online classes is a major benefit. "Online classes allow students to go on with their daily lives, stay in their home communities, and get a great education without having to uproot themselves and travel outside their city or even state," he says.

Statistically, 82 percent of eLearners at UAA are degree-seeking students, with 26 percent being freshmen and 55 percent being part-timers. The university offers twenty eLearning programs with no location-based...

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