A large part of our lives today takes place online. Local news, world events, social trends, lifestyle and fashion come through our computer screen rather than TV. Considering the amount of time the average person spends online, getting a degree online seems like the most logical and natural thing ever.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 20,4% of all undergraduates have taken at least one distance education course. Furthermore, about 0.7 million, or 3,7% of all undergraduates, completed their entire programme through distance education. A recent study shows that the popularity of online colleges is growing exponentially in relation to traditional education – in fact, the ratio is more than 10 to 1. An online degree is in general cheaper, shorter in duration and allows you to continue your education without interference with your career, family responsibilities and everyday life.

However, before signing up for an online MBA, there are a few things to take into consideration. Choose a course which will fit in best with your schedule. Know why you are embarking on this journey. Getting an online degree might seem like a walk in the park, but unless you have the right motivation, soon the time and effort you need to invest will seem overwhelming.

Time management is crucial. Plan ahead. Last, but not least - do your research and select an accredited school. Taking a course with a ‘diploma mill’ or a fake school will end up being a waste of time and money. Bear in mind that there are a variety of different systems you can choose between. Try to understand the requirements and the deadlines of your programme, in order to be able to fit it in with your usual rhythm of life and achieve the best results possible.

A variety of distance learning formats to choose from

The Open Schedule provides the highest level of freedom possible, enabling you to incorporate the coursework into your personal schedule. Students are given the course material and a set of deadlines- this style of online education is designed for self-motivated people who do not succumb to procrastination. Blended Learning is a common version of distance learning which offers an open schedule, but requires students to communicate with an established location, in a physical classroom or online via message boards or chat rooms. Similar to an open schedule, it allows students to complete assignments at their own time as long as they meet the deadline required for communication.

Computer-Based Learning almost mirrors the behaviour of the standard classroom. Students are required to participate at designated times and places, often ranging from a computer to an actual classroom. This option is typically ideal only for those who live close to campus and are looking to take on extra coursework. Fixed-Time E-Learning is the most common type of online education – it sets a pre-determined schedule which can be kept from any location. Students are not required to attend a physical location. They’re required to complete the coursework and then log onto the online learning site at the pre-determined time. This type of distance learning is popular since it provides a live online forum with a social component which is often lacking from online courses.

Online and distance education are not for everyone

You need self-motivation, discipline and a strong will, in order to avoid succumbing to procrastination. Not having direct contact with your fellow students and professor makes it much more likely that you might miss deadlines and skip classes and appointments. Set your goals and stay motivated. Prepare for your online sessions in the same way you would for a traditional real life class. Wake up early and review the material, be alert and attentive, take part in the discussions and ask questions, if you have any. Find the right study environment. If you are distracted at home, going to the library or a coffee shop for an hour might be the best solution.

Manage your time

Studying from a distance gives you the advantage of setting your own pace, however, you need to plan ahead and keep track of deadlines, mid-terms and final exams. Even more so, if you are enrolled in a distance learning course - you will have set locations for reviews and exams. Katia, 35, HR Manager at the Kempinski Hotel, who recently completed a 4- semester distant learning course in Human Resource Management at the Open University of London, shares her experience: ‘The real challenge is to find theextra time to complete assignments.Between work and responsibilities athome, you can easily forget that you have‘homework’as well. ’ Out of the 13 students in her class, only 3 completed the course. Surprisingly, the people who completed the course on schedule were the ones who had full-time jobs. Finally, make sure you’re not wasting your time. Check that the college of your choice has a credible reputation.

Best of all is to study for a degree with the distance-learning arm of a well-respected traditional university or, at the very least, an accredited distancelearning institute.