Online Medical Assistant Program – The Right Thing For Me?

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Man typing on a laptopTechnology has improved and enhanced our lives in many ways. One such example of technology’s impact is within higher education. We have gone from simply having computers in the classroom to the computer being the classroom for busy adult learners. Colleges and universities have started using the Internet to reach a previously untapped market of students who needed flexible class schedules to better accommodate their busy schedules. Traditional public and private institutions have certainly taken note and responded by offering courses and degrees online.

According to The Sloan Consortium, over 6 million students were enrolled in at least 1 online course in 2010. That number has quadrupled from the 1.5 million that were enrolled in at least 1 online course in 2002. In 2010, 31% of all student enrollments were online, and 65% of Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) agreed that “online education is critical to their institution’s long term strategy”.

Is distance learning as effective as learning in a classroom?

Along with the convenience that online education offers comes the stigma of it being “too good to be true.” According to recent research, that statement is inaccurate. The US Department of Education has found online classes to be “marginally superior” to traditional on-campus classes in certain situations. Furthermore, blended classes that combine traditional in-class and online teaching can have better results than classes that rely on only one method.

It is believed that students take a more active role in their learning when enrolled in a blend of online and traditional classes. In the more traditional lecture format classes, students passively listen to the instructor. Sometimes there may be class or group discussions. Otherwise, comprehension is checked only when tests or quizzes are given, making student engagement very low. Online courses require students to take an active role and fully engage in their learning. In addition to reading the textbook and the lecture material, students are often given more opportunities to process the material through online discussions and papers in addition to tests and quizzes. This also gives the instructor more opportunities to check for understanding of the material. This should result in fewer students falling through the cracks.

Online courses also offer a variety of ways to learn so that students who struggle with one type of learning have other avenues to explore. For instance, if students have trouble concentrating on a lecture, they can instead watch a video that presents the information.

Is the online option right for me?

Online classes and degrees are very attractive to adult learners who often times must balance their education along with a full-time job and/or family. Therefore, online students can attend classes at their convenience during their lunch break, after work, or even after their kids have gone to bed for the evening. There is no commute, no hassle with parking, and focusing on class can be done on the students’ terms. Another group of nontraditional students that are best served by online education are adult students who live in remote, rural areas.

Although online learning is very effective in certain cases, it is not the right learning medium for everyone. In order to be considered a good candidate for online learning, there are a few factors and personal requirements that you should consider.

Learning Style. Are you self-disciplined? Are you motivated to succeed? Can you set and meet your own deadlines? Although students are responsible for their learning in both class mediums, online classes demand this to a much greater degree. There are still assignments and class activities to complete and deadlines to meet in online classes, and students must be able to take the initiative to begin and complete their assignments in a timely manner.

Next, online learners must be able to develop study schedules in order to manage and commit their time to their online classes. Online learning requires as much, if not more, time than traditional on-campus courses do. Whether students complete their work in one sitting or break up their class time during lunch or their child’s nap time is up to them, but the work must be completed in order to meet the deadlines.

Written Communication Skills. Since you will not see your instructors in person, you must be able to organize and communicate your thoughts in a clear and coherent manner. The bulk of your communication with your instructors will be through the written word. Auditory or tactile-kinesthetic learners may have a difficult time with the amount of reading and writing required in online classes. Also, some students may prefer the face-to-face interaction with their instructors and peers to the virtual and often asynchronous interaction that takes place through online classes.

Computer Skills. Obviously, to succeed in online coursework requires proficiency with computers and the Internet. If all this new technology makes your head spin, you need to brush up on your computer skills before attempting an entire program online. If you still wonder whether or not online education is for you, perhaps you can take an elective course. Start by choosing a general class that will be required during the medical assistant program. If you determine that the online format fits well with your lifestyle as well as compliments your learning style, you will know that you are ready to embark on an entire online program.

Life Situation. If you have children, or are planning on having children, you may not be able to attend traditional classes. Kids get hurt, sick, have appointments, and need constant care. This may make it difficult to keep up with your school work. Likewise, if you already have a job but want to change careers or further your education, your schedule may not allow for traditional classes. In order to attend a traditional college, you would have to reduce your work hours, which may not be financially feasible. If you have children and a job, online classes may be your best bet for obtaining a higher education. The flexibility of online learning is a big selling point for many students.

What are the benefits of online education?

benefits of online educationThere are many benefits and advantages to pursuing an online education. The most popular reasons for seeking an online medical assisting program are:

  • There is flexibility. Students can choose when, where, and how long they study, enabling them to better balance family and work with academic commitments.
  • Classes won’t disrupt your work schedule. Students are also free to structure their class attendance times that best accommodate their work schedule with asynchronous online classes. There is no need to take off of work early, commute to night class, or skip a lunch break to attend an afternoon lecture. Instead, students can log in and attend classes from the comfort of their home or office before work, during lunch, or after work.
  • You can study in your own environment. Online students are free from the distractions of an on-campus class (cell phones ringing, classmates dominating the discussion, etc).
  • A shorter time period is required to complete the course.
  • Online classes tend to be more affordable. There are fewer incidental expenses for online classes. For example, costs associated with commuting to campus, parking, vehicle maintenance, leaving work early, and/or finding childcare are not a factor when taking online courses.
  • Rural students can obtain education without moving. Living in a remote or rural area or having a disability will not automatically disqualify you from getting an online degree. However, location-bound students should ensure that they can locate and attend an on-site internship or externship.
  • You can learn important skills such as self-discipline, organization, and independent work skills.

What are the disadvantages?

Along with the advantages of online education come the disadvantages and drawbacks. They are:

  • Not everything can be learned through the Internet. For example, a career such as massage therapy. Although advances in technology allow for simulated practice, there are some things which need to be or are preferred to be studied in-person. A credible online medical assistant program will require you to complete an internship or an externship to gain hands-on clinical training. Some programs may require traveling to campus for a short amount of time. Others will work with students to help them find on-site opportunities within their communities. You must make sure that you can meet these requirements, as exceptions are usually not made when it comes to granting degrees or certificates.
  • There is little to no face-to-face interaction and communication. Some students may find it is difficult for them to develop these skills or they may find online learning to be isolating with a lack of socialization compared to the traditional, face-to-face classroom.
  • There may be some acceptance issues with prospective employers. According to the Sloan Consortium, 83% of executives say that they feel an online degree is as credible as an on-campus degree. Although this number is high, it indicates that there is still some doubters and controversy regarding online education. Interested individuals should call prospective employers in their communities to see if an online or blended degree will meet the employer’s training requirements.
  • It is much too easy to procrastinate and fall behind in your work.
  • There is less practical knowledge being shared.

How will I get hands-on experience through an online program?

A medical assistant is required to gain theoretical, clerical, and clinical knowledge. Undoubtedly, some will argue that those types of skills must be learned in person. A blended or hybrid medical assistant training program will give you the best of both worlds by providing you with convenient online classes for the administrative part and hands-on training to learn those necessary clinical skills. Good examples of blended learning programs are offered through Kaplan Integrated Technology (KIT)
or Everest Hybridlearning (not all schools offer this, contact the school for more information)

You should beware of completely online medical assistant programs that teach clinical skills and laboratory procedures solely through online simulations. That is certainly not the best plan as it will offer you little chance, if any, of finding a job. There are actually very few programs in the healthcare field that you can complete without any hands-on experience, other than some positions as a medical administrative assistant or those dealing with medical billing and coding.

What if I have unique barriers or learning needs?

As previously mentioned, living in a rural area or having a disability should not automatically disqualify you from becoming a qualified medical assistant. It is important to look for well-established schools that have experience with finding ways to best accommodate students with these unique situations. For example, a public university in Texas provided online graduate education courses to child welfare workers who lived in remote rural areas. In order for the students to complete their experiential component, they completed an internship in their communities with a local supervisor that observed their skills and provided on-site feedback and training. The students and their supervisors then reported back to an instructor employed by the university who ensured that all objectives were met for the experiential part of their training.

Prospective students with disabilities can seek experiential training at sites that are accommodating and compliant with the terms of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Employer acceptance – Will employers recognize my online education?

One of the biggest fears students have is that potential employers will not accept or hire someone with an online degree. However, with the abundance of online classes and degrees now being offered, employer acceptance of online and blended education seems to be steadily increasing.

  • Taking online courses demonstrates a willingness to learn and dedication to the field.
  • Many health care facilities want medical assistants who have good social skills, regardless of grades. All of the skills that are required to be a successful online student are the “soft skills” that make graduates from online programs attractive to prospective employers. Demonstrating and further developing these skills by completing online courses or a degree may now give graduates a competitive edge in the job market.
  • Online courses require a specific set of skills that are useful in the workplace, such as the ability to work effectively on your own.

There are a few things you can do to think ahead. First, you should apply to and enroll in accredited programs rather than degree mills. A medical assistant program should be accredited by CAAHEP or ABHES as well as the school itself being accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education. Additionally, you may want to contact prospective employers to ensure that online or blended learning courses and degrees will meet their requirements.