In September 2014, St. Catherine University admitted its first class to the new online occupational therapy assistant program. The OTA online degree is the first of its kind in the nation, combining online education with hands-on experience at Genesis Rehabilitation centers in Virginia and other surrounding states.
While this program is a first, the idea of distance education actually began in the early 1700s. A man named Caleb Phillips ran an ad in the Boston Gazette in 1728 offering to exchange letters with lessons and homework teaching students shorthand. Since then, the concept of distance education grew and changed with emerging technology. It was in 1996 when the first web-based, accredited university launched.
Even though the concept of distance education has been in practice for centuries, there remains a level of mistrust with this non-traditional track. There are several misconceptions that have given online education a bad reputation.
Online Education Myths
Myth 1: Limited or No Interaction with faculty
The misconception here is that by taking courses online you are on your own and don’t have the support of your professors. Just because you are sitting alone in a room does not mean you’re on your own. Professors make their personal contact information available to all students, so they’re actually just an email or phone call away. Instead of having to wait for office hours like they would in a traditional education setting, students can contact their professor immediately with a question.
Myth 2: Lower quality of education
It’s not completely certain where this misconception started, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In the case of St. Kate’s OTA online degree, the program is actually adapted from their on-campus program in Minnesota, so the curriculum is nearly identical. The OTA program also incorporates hands-on components where students practice procedures in a lab setting as well as complete fieldwork, like how nursing students must complete clinicals to graduate. Students who complete the online OTA program will be just as prepared by their education as students who completed the on-campus program.
Myth 3: Online education is easier, therefore not as valuable
Because an online program is often based on the same curriculum as a traditional, on-campus program, it is not easier. Online education often has more scheduling flexibility because the lesson plans are completed when the student has time, instead of at a set time each day. Students can also go back and re-watch old lessons or pause a lesson to take time to understand a concept fully before moving on. But this does not mean the material is any less challenging. Online students simply have more tools at their disposal to learn each lesson thoroughly.
Online students also have to be disciplined in their studies. Because they have so much flexibility, they are their keepers to learn the material. But just like a traditional track, online students have deadlines to meet and exams to take, so they still have to complete homework and lesson plans by a certain time.
Myth 4: The student community is weaker
This myth pulls from the idea that online students are on their own. But just as a professor’s contact information is available to all students, so are their peers’ contact information. Online degrees often also have a forum through the program’s online software where students can chat with each other, post questions, and discuss concepts.
Myth 5: Employers won’t accept degree earned online
Employers don’t often pay attention to how you earned your degree when you’re looking to start your COTA career. Instead, they pay attention to the reputation of the institution and the accrediting body. St. Catherine University was first established in 1905 and has been offering their on-campus OTA program since 1964. So while the online OTA degree is new, the university has a long reputation of turning out certified occupational therapy assistants. The on-campus program is currently accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association and the online OTA program is in the multi-year process of receiving official AOTA accreditation.
What You Should Look for in your OTA Online Degree
The same criteria potential employers are looking for in your degree are the same you should be looking for when researching potential OTA online degrees. To find out more about St. Catherine’s Online OTA program, contact an admissions advisor.