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An Art Degree Online? How Does That Work?

College is many things, but easy is definitely not one of them. Juggling classwork, midterms, finals, and multiple extracurricular activities, many students find themselves making stressful, career-related decisions for the very first time: Gap year or grad school? Summer session or summer job? Paid part-time gig or unpaid internship with networking opportunities?

While a lot is expected of today’s college student, leaving the house to go to class isn’t.

That’s because thousands of students are choosing to attend college online. Some earn their degrees entirely online, while “hybrid” students take a mix of online and on-site classes. Between 2002 and 2014, the number of students enrolled in “at least one online-education course” grew from 1.6 million to 5.8 million, a statistic which begs the question: Why is online education attracting these record numbers, and what does it offer?

Online Education isn’t what it used to be

American poet Emily Dickenson once said, “There is no frigate like a book.” In other words, books can transport you beyond where any boat can go. If you want to see the world, pick up a book.

But Emily Dickenson never had the Internet.

If you haven’t been paying attention, you should know that online education has changed dramatically over the past few years. Gone are the days of endless back-and-forth emails and detached video lectures, and no longer are MBAs the only degrees that can be earned online.

Part of the growth in online education can be attributed to the massive increase in subjects offered online. In the early days of online learning, the consensus was that certain areas of study—such as business, accounting, and writing—lent themselves to online learning more easily than others did.

The skills needed to master art and design techniques were perceived as too challenging to teach or learn long-distance. The arts, it was argued, required a personalized approach, more direction, and student-teacher interactions that online education was unable to facilitate. This made courses in the humanities a rarity. Music? Fashion? Good luck finding a program. Communications, fine art, and graphic design? You’re on your own, buddy.

Of course, times have changed. And so have options for distance learners. Students are earning fine art degrees from top-tier universities entirely online. Furthermore, universities are expanding their offerings to include BFAs and MFAs in animation, illustration, web design, sculpture, fashion design, photography and several other areas of study.

Can Technology and Art align?
Depending on who you ask, the advent of online art and design courses can be attributed to any one of a number of things. But everyone agrees that innovative technology changed the game.

Ironically, given the perception that technology is cold and impassive and unfeeling, technology is credited with bringing “warmth” to online art classes. Innovations in tech bring interactive and social elements to the online courses transforming the digital learning landscape by revamping the standard audio or video lecture. Today’s distance learners are more engaged and collaborative than ever before.

As online learning gained traction in educational circles, those who innovated emerged as pioneers in the field. For instance, Academy of Art University in San Francisco began teaching art and design courses online in 2002. With no precedent to refer to, the Academy developed rigorous online courses that have since become the industry benchmark, as well as online tools that have revolutionized art and design education.

Though students work and study remotely, they are by no means isolated. Each online course offers a discussion area where fellow classmates and instructors can freely share thoughts and revelations, post work, and provide or receive helpful critique. Students can record video and audio to accompany photos or written descriptions of artwork submitted for evaluation. Instructors then provide detailed feedback by providing commentary in written, visual, and audio formats as well. Students support each other, which pushes artistic growth and forges long-lasting connections with peers and faculty.

“The classes are a mix of lecture content, written content, recorded audio, interactive slideshows, and hands-on work,” says Jason Shaeffer, vice president of Online Education at Academy of Art University.

The classes are a mix of lecture content, written content, recorded audio, interactive slideshows, and hands-on work

“With over 140 staff members supporting the creation and teaching of online courses, the Academy of Art pours more resources into production than any other online program,” says Schaeffer. “We’re constantly building new courses and reworking old ones. And the quality shows.”

“It’s almost more personalized than what’s offered in an on-site class,” explains Shaeffer.

Benefits Abound
Perhaps the most talked-about benefit of online art and design courses is the flexibility it affords students. But there are myriad other benefits. Here are just a few. 

  1. The value of having your home as your classroom and studio
    Forget the long treks to campus labs or the midnight group study sessions spent in the library. As an online student, you can rearrange your living space, stock it with art and design supplies, and work there, in its comfort and familiarity.
  2. Group work online mirrors global business work
    Advanced technology, real-time support, communication tactics, synchronized interactive methods—it sounds (and is) a lot like the real-life work environment in a global, 24-hour office.
  3. Building borderless classrooms
    A unique if not understated feature of online education is that people from all walks of life, all across the globe, sign up to learn remotely. At Academy of Art University, peer commentary ensures engaging community discussions, as people of various backgrounds and influences offer their perspectives, creating a truly global classroom.
  4. The world is your classroom 
    After receiving her BFA from Virginia Tech in 2007, Abigail Gomez was ready for some change. She wanted to expand her education with an MFA in Fine Art, but was reluctant to uproot the life and career that she’d established in Virginia. She also wanted the freedom to incorporate and explore her Cuban heritage in her creations. Academy of Art University’s online program gave Abigail the freedom she needed in order to flourish. “I was surprised by how effective the online teaching system was,” she said, in an interview with Academy Art U News. “One of the wonderful things about the Academy is the connections you make and the support from instructors.”

I was surprised by how effective the online teaching system was

Things to look for: choosing the best
There are qualities that set some programs apart from the rest. Key factors to look for include innovation, accreditation, flexibility, and convenience. In addition, online colleges that provide student support and resources, compelling curriculum, and instructors who work in the industry all play an integral role in determining the best program for you as a student.

In addition, students who complete their degree requirements online should feel like they have the same access to support and resources as everyone else. This includes financial aid counseling, internship opportunities in the area you live, and career counseling.

There’s no time like the present to take advantage of all that Academy of Art University’s online learninghas to offer. Visit http://www.academyart.edu/online-education for more information.


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