Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.
Distance Learning Brings Experts to Your Den
November 1, 1997
If you want to be at the leading edge of the latest trend, you'll want to get up to speed on distance learning. If you embrace the technique, you'll be able to earn your continuing education credits without leaving your house, and you'll never again have to cram in your classes at the eleventh hour at some out-of-the-way hotel ballroom.
Distance learning lets you learn what you want, when you want to by using technologies such as CD-ROM, satellite television, and the Internet. You can use the method not only to study but also--in many cases--to talk to the instructor and take your quizzes and final exams without ever setting foot in a classroom.
“Distance learning is evolving into the most popular way to take classes in California because people just don’t have time to go to night school anymore,” says Mark Chamberlin, director of the Chamberlin Real Estate School Inc., Campbell, Calif. “The convenience factor is why real estate practitioners are jumping in right now.”
You Deserve the Best
There are other benefits besides convenience. “You'll be able to pick the way you learn best,” says Julie Garton-Good, a real estate educator and president of the Garton Good Co., Lenore, Idaho. “As we mature as an industry, we’re going to have more people who've learned in a different way and want to continue that way.
“People with advanced degrees are used to learning by themselves. So not everyone feels that the classroom is absolutely the very best place to learn.”
Eric Stromeyer, a practitioner with Triple Seven Funding, San Jose, Calif., who's in the midst of completing an Internet-based, 45-unit continuing education course through the Chamberlin Real Estate School, agrees. “I learn differently than other people. A lot of people like to read things, memorize them, and, boom, be done. I try to get more in depth.
“With the Internet course, if I'm working on a section about disclosure and want some more nitty-gritty, I can double-click and get on the Internet for a specific disclosure form, for instance. In a classroom, it’s impossible for a teacher to say, ‘Double-click here for some more details.’”
Distance learning also gives you greater access to experts. “Soon practitioners aren’t going to be satisfied with somebody from the end of the block teaching a course,” says Garton-Good. “They're going to want the best of the best.
“A lot of people, because they’re geographically challenged, haven't had the very best as far as expertise goes. Distance learning allows the expert from afar to actually be in your classroom. Why would you want somebody who does everything from soup to nuts and knows a little about everything when you could have the definitive expert right there in front of you?”
Slow Coming to the Party
Despite the applause that distance learning has been getting, not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. States have been cautious in approving the method for CE credit, and according to a National Association of REALTORS® survey conducted last March, real estate practitioners prefer classroom learning over all other methods, and many say they wouldn't use computer diskettes, Internet courses, and satellite TV for learning.
But, says NAR, as practitioners become more familiar with alternative deliveries, it’s expected they will grow more open to them and find they’re a good alternative to traditional classroom education. And as state and local associations begin to offer Internet-based and other forms of education, NAR hopes to partner with those associations, linking their courses to One Realtor Place®. Through such a link, practitioners will have a single place to go to find and access any course developed for them.
The Association of Real Estate License Law Officials, Bountiful, Utah, recently hired a consultant to develop distance learning guidelines that state regulatory boards will be able to look to as a model in evaluating the quality of potential programs.
The Illinois Association of REALTORS®, Springfield, was among the earliest adopters of Internet-based education for continuing education. Such courses have been more quickly approved in Illinois than in other states because the Illinois license law already provides for home study for prelicensing and continuing education.
It’s too early to measure the new program's effectiveness. “We may be a little ahead of the marketplace,” comments Wayne Edwards, director of professional development for IAR. “But I would much rather be ahead of than behind the curve, because when the marketplace shifts, it’s going to shift very rapidly, and we won't be in the position of trying to catch up.”
Bruce Finland, president of RealNet Direct Television, a provider of satellite-delivered real estate education, sees his McLean, Va., company a bit ahead of the curve too. “Right now, many distance learning providers are pushing the concept into the market rather than a demand pulling it out.”
Education experts say that one major stumbling block for students and regulators is a lack of interaction--direct questions to the instructor and networking opportunities among fellow practitioners.
“We can’t say that distance learning is a total replacement of the classroom experience,” says Finland. “Providers will do a good job at replicating the experience of being in front of a live instructor in real time. It’s a function of technology and using it properly. Technology is always ahead of people's ability to use it effectively.”
Embracing Without Hugging
“I think many of our members have used education sessions as a place to connect with fellow practitioners, and I think they miss that,” says Mickey Myers, education director for the Vermont Association of REALTORS®, which provides members with prelicensing and continuing education through closed-circuit satellite television. “You just can’t hug an old friend through a television screen,” she comments.
Nonetheless, VAR members have embraced the association’s satellite broadcasts, and almost 70 percent of the state's education takes place through the medium. Myers thinks the approach is such a big hit because of the state's incredibly cold winters and the fact that many areas are sparsely populated.
“It’s not economically feasible for us to take seminars to many areas of the state,” she says. “The interactive broadcast lets us treat all our members equally.”
Dialogue With Instructors
Interaction can be built into CD-ROM and Internet courses through E-mail links to instructors and by setting up chat rooms for students and instructors. Chamberlin says that students in his courses can send him an E-mail at any time to ask a question, get a clarification, or establish a discussion.
“With one mouse click,” says Chamberlin, “they’re sending questions, and we answer back and forth until the student says, ‘Thanks a lot.’ I've had much more interaction with the Internet students than I had when we just mailed out home study books and tests.”
Other concerns among educators, as well as topics of discussion at the Distance Learning Summit held last June by the Real Estate Educators Association, are knowledge retention and security. According to Bev McCormick, chairholder of real estate studies at Morehead University, Morehead, Ky., and president-elect of REEA, “In a classroom, how do you know that anyone in the room learned anything? Being there doesn’t mean you've learned a thing.”
Distance learning, in some cases, forces a student to be engaged. For instance, most Internet-based courses require a student to respond to a question or take a quiz before proceeding to the next screen. “In some respects, that forces you to learn and know something before getting to the next message or the end of the course,” comments McCormick.
The security issue--are the people sitting at the computers actually who they say they are?--has been addressed by having students come to a central location for proctored final exams, requiring them to use passwords to identify themselves, and having their pictures displayed on the screen. Most experts say you simply have to trust students, because it’s in their best interest to complete courses themselves to improve their knowledge and expertise. Garton-Good says the security problem soon won't be a big problem and alludes to a new security technology that’s been developed but which she can’t reveal yet.
Despite the hurdles, experts say distance learning is here to stay. “My guess is that by the new millennium easily 30 percent--if not 50 percent--of the training is going to be delivered outside the traditional classroom,” predicts Garton-Good.
“Distance learning is a tool that will simplify your life if you allow it. When it really starts going, it will snowball very quickly,” says Edwards.
Information Awaits You Only One Keystroke Away
If you're ready to hop on the couch, fire up your computer, and do more research about distance learning, here are some Web sites to get you started. To find others, look under continuing education opportunities for a variety of information on conferences, news, and explanations of distance education concepts.
Association of Real Estate License Law Officials, Bountiful, Utah
The Real Estate Educators Association, Fairfax, Va.
University of Wisconsin Extension, Madison, Wis.
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