porterA_1_351
The availability of online college degrees and certificates in real estate seems to increase every year. (Many who run the programs now prefer the term “distance education.”) These programs offer an opportunity for learning through online courses rather than classroom lectures, allowing students to study at their own pace and from remote locations. Students enrolled in such programs can acquire the skills necessary to work in commercial and corporate real estate companies—especially important because all states require licensing for some types of real estate transactions.

Online schools such as those offered by New England College, Marylhurst University, Post University, Colorado Tech, South University, Drexel University, and American Public University offer a variety of opportunities for online real estate education, ranging from undergraduate and graduate degrees to certificates in real estate that can be credited toward state license requirements.

Online programs make it possible for employed students to fit schoolwork into their busy schedules. These programs can offer course lectures and materials through streaming video or CD-ROM and often provide online chat rooms, discussion boards, and e-mail connections. Typically, the programs assign advisers to provide assistance in registering for courses, ordering books and materials, and addressing other program needs.

However, online teaching and assistance are not for everyone. Though online programs provide many connections to useful coursework, they seem to fall short of matching the interactive richness and teamwork of the on-campus, classroom learning provided by the university curriculums in real estate development covered in the accompanying article. Perhaps blending one or two full-time semesters with follow-up online courses would offer a more attractive alternative.

Even so, online teaching seems to be attracting considerable attention. A front-page article in the Washington Post on November 4, 2012, under the headline “Education’s Elite Are Now Less Exclusive” highlighted the drawing power of new website courses taught by respected professors and made available online at no cost by many well-known universities. The article cited the experience of Professor Brian Caffo, who teaches a course in public health at Johns Hopkins University that he calls a “mathematical biostatistics boot camp.” Usually the seven-week course attracts a few dozen graduate students, but newly available on the Coursera.org website, the course attracted 15,000 students from the United States and abroad who paid nothing for the opportunity. Caffo’s course includes video lectures, weekly quizzes and homework, and a discussion forum. Another example of online pulling power: about 33,000 students signed up for a University of Pennsylvania poetry class.

The Coursera website has enlisted 33 well-known universities to provide classes, and the Washington Post reported that since April 2012 more than 1.7 million students have registered for its courses. Another website, edX.org, offers online courses from schools such as Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley.

How successful are free online courses? Measuring success beyond sign-ups is still a question. Caffo told the Washington Post that several weeks into his course, about half his students had watched at least one video and about 18 percent had taken at least one quiz, which is instantly graded by computer. They can view lectures as many times as they wish and have three chances to pass each quiz. Students pass courses when they complete quizzes with scores of 70 percent or better; they are awarded a statement of completion that has no effect on grades, credits, or degrees from Johns Hopkins University. Caffo told the Post that students awarded such statements seem to “want certification for their own reasons.”