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Hey guys, so I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. Largely because that’s just how I roll, always and forever thinking about learning, but also because I get asked a lot of questions about education and careers in archaeology. A good number of these are from people who are non-traditional learners. I totally understand what you guys are going through, as I have also been a non-trad student in need of some magical way to make getting a degree work with my life. Not always so easy, depending on what you want to do, and anthropology and social science-based degrees are unfortunately not as easy to acquire when the education has to come to you and not the other way around.

Luckily, there has been a virtual explosion of online and distance learning programs in the last few years (get it?!) I have been a part of the evolution of this educational paradigm as a student and intend on continuing my role in it as an instructor and instructional designer. So let me share with you a few things you should think about if a traditional collegiate experience may be difficult for you.

  • There are quite a few reputable B.A. and M.A. programs offered online these days. Many brick and mortar schools are expanding to include online courses and programs in anthropology and related fields. Very few PhDs are available online, but that may be changing soon!

  • A degree is a degree is a degree. You don’t have to “fess up” to having a distance degree on your resume, all that matters is that you get the credit due for your academic efforts no matter if they were earned in a classroom or your couch.

  • The most commonly offered anthropology courses are generally the core requirements for advanced degrees. I applied to graduate school with a distance certificate in archaeology and an unrelated B.A., and I was accepted with a requirement to first finish my core undergraduate courses. I could have done this online if I had to, hence the beauty of more and more schools offering these courses online!

  • Distance learning offers you the chance to pursue your degree remotely while working your day job, staying home with the kids, living in a place with no local program, traveling, disabled, or unable to get your butt to school otherwise. An online M.A. could be attained while working in the field after your undergraduate program. It’s not only for young people either, folks of any age can take advantage of these classes with only an internet connection and moderate computer skills.

  • Online courses may be a great way for the hobbyist to finally get credit for studying something they love. You don’t even have to be a degree seeking student to take part in online learning. Have you always wanted to take archaeology courses just to learn more about a subject your passionate about? Done. Don’t know if it will ever be more than just a hobby? That’s okay, take a course here and there, get credit, and then if in the future you decide to go for it you will already be on your way to a degree.

Personally, I was so grateful to discover I had another option when I decided to pursue a career in archaeology. My situation has not been very conducive to the traditional route (I’m a military spouse, I move every two to three years, I live in the middle of nowhere, the list goes on and on…). But thankfully I was able to get a distance certificate that set me on my way to graduate school, and have been able to continue my education by taking online courses and receiving professional certifications online in my post-grad life #addictedtolearning.

So what does distance learning look like? Well, when I started at the University of Leicester (one of the first and best schools for distance programs in archaeology) the programs were all asynchronous (they required no real-time communication, instruction, or chat). I received my course materials and books every module (a 3 month course, 6 of which made up a certificate) in the mail. Then I proceeded to read the appropriate materials and prepare my assignments to be sent to my teachers in the UK. We communicated through email and forums (which I regretfully did not take advantage of enough). This seems a pretty antiquated way of doing it now. New online learning tools have made interaction between classmates and teachers so much easier.

Many distance programs are now blended to include some form of synchronous instruction, where the class meets to listen to a lecture or work together via a virtual classroom interface. Methods and technologies vary between programs, but online courses can now be completed entirely from home through the dissemination of video lectures, powerpoints, assignments, tests, and forums on a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas or Blackboard. These programs are fairly intuitive, so no need to be too intimidated by having to navigate the system if you aren’t the greatest with technology. It can be a great way to get comfortable with learning for those who would rather type a question in a chat box or forum post than raise their hand in front of a class, or discuss a topic over a headset in a virtual classroom where no one can see that you’re in your pajamas and have your head stuffed into the textbook. There are many reasons why taking part in a course online may be beneficial for you, which is something to consider when thinking about whether you would prefer to earn your degree in a classroom or online.

But what about FIELD WORK? Ah, yes, the most complicated factor in getting an anthropology degree online is that education in the field usually includes an applied element such as a field school. This is true not only of archaeology, but often bioarchaeology and cultural anthropology as well. Fear not, there are schools all over the world that offer field schools for credit that can be transferred to your online program. Hopefully your online program will also have options for attending their summer field schools as long as you can get yourself there. Unfortunately, if you live in a remote location this may require a little extra money and inconvenience, but if you are planning on a career in archaeology you might want to get used to having to go where the digs are… The Archaeological Institute of America has lots of great resources on field schools and scholarships that might be perfect for you!

So that’s all for now. If you’d like a head start on some good distance programs in anthropology here in the U.S. check out this list, though a thorough online search will give you more options. Also, I might be biased, but look into the University of Leicester’s Distance Learning programs in archaeology and ancient history. They’re smashing, and they offer several options like a certificate, B.A., M.A., or even Ph.D. I found them quite affordable and they have been one of the most respected names in archaeology and distance learning for quite some time. If you have questions, email me at jennymcniven@gmail.com and I’ll help the best I can.

Good luck, friends. Don’t be afraid to harness the power of learning online. It may just be the perfect fit for you!


Is Online or Distance Learning right for you?

2 thoughts on “Is Online or Distance Learning right for you?

  • February 20, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    You’re welcome! I’m glad you are able to shop around a little bit to find the program that will jibe most with your interests, even if it’s an online program. It’s hard to make your education work WITH you a lot of the time, so it’s a good thing there are starting to be more options out there to help make it happen. Best to you!

  • January 2, 2017 at 1:11 am

    Hi Jenny,

    I want to thank you for this post. As a non-traditional student I had not considered online as an option for pursuing my Anthropology degree. I’ve now looked into multiple programs, including the University of Leicester, as well as a few state side programs. The University of Florida is at the top of my list due to course options; they were more aligned with my personal interests. Most state universities that offered Anthropology degrees online appeared to be geared more towards cultural anthropology.

    Thank you again!

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