Learning for the long haul

| July 06, 2007

“At first, I didn’t know what to expect – if [the classes] might be a joke or something – but they’re not,” Cerra says. “You have to be motivated. You have to discipline yourself. If I were to recommend it to anybody, I’d say start slow. Take one course and see how you like it, because when people are overwhelmed and backed into a corner, that’s when they fail.”

Online or face-to-face?
Drivers who can get home on a regular basis or have a dedicated route might prefer enrolling in a weekend or night class at a local college, but for over-the-road drivers, online education may be the simplest option.

“You know what’s expected of you weeks in advance, so you can manage your own schedule,” says InCab U’s Ricketts. “The teachers are eager to work with their schedules, and they understand the lifestyle. They’ve got specific needs, and that’s what we want to address the most.”

The number of distance learning programs is growing each year – especially in the area of online studies. According to recent Sloan studies, more than half of all post-secondary learning institutions offer online undergraduate-level courses, and the percentage is much higher within large, public institutions.

In addition, schools like Kaplan University (www.kaplan.edu) and the University of Phoenix (www.phoenix.edu) focus on adult distance education and online courses. The average age of Kaplan’s students is 34 years.

Online courses are the most flexible and readily available, but they require at least basic computer savvy and more initial investment – you must have a computer and regular access to an Internet connection.

“It’s pretty in-depth and can be overwhelming at the beginning,” says Cerra, who has carried a laptop in his truck for the past six years. “But with the initial instruction the programs have, people can learn to do it fairly quickly.”

Without in-person teacher/student interaction, some students might have a harder time learning or focusing.

“It takes a lot of perseverance,” Cerra says. “I’m required to take the same exact mid-terms and final exams, but I don’t have the teacher in front of me explaining something.”

But many proponents of distance education argue that students learn as much as or more in the discussion-heavy online courses than they do in traditional classrooms.

According to Sloan’s most-recent online-education study, a relatively small but growing percentage – 16.9 percent, a growth of 40 percent since the 2003 study – believe online learning outcomes are actually superior to those of face-to-face. Sixty-two percent believe online learning is equal to face-to-face learning.

“It depends, we have found, on the student,” InCab U’s Ricketts says. “For people like our nation’s truck drivers, who don’t have the luxury of coming off the road and giving up the income, this is the perfect opportunity to fulfill that dream while they are still gainfully employed.”

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