Technology Solutions

Point and Click Your Way to Online Educational Opportunities

In addition to being an online research and entertainment source, today’s Internet is ripe with educational opportunities.

With Net usage and content continuing to expand at astronomical rates, online education already is being used by a small but growing number of organizations. The benefits of taking a wide range of courses online are well suited to many commercial real estate professionals. However, online education likely won’t replace — but will complement — traditional course work, especially industry-specific courses.

"I don’t think online education will ever replace [classrooms]," says Ray Martinez, manager of technology-based education for the Appraisal Institute. "You’ve got to look at your learner. A lot of our people come to the classrooms because that’s the only time they get to see their colleagues."

Whether the object is earning a designation or learning to use a new software program, online education can be a great supplement for real estate professionals.

Cyber Learning
Along with reducing travel time and expense, online courses can differ from the classroom in other ways. First, they can be heavily text based, and although instructors may be involved, the instructor’s role often is different from leading in-class discussions or offering lectures. Online instructors are human databanks and guides, responding to student queries posted in class forums or e-mailed from question links embedded in course programs.

Many online courses also are paced at the individual user’s discretion. There may be a time limit in which to complete the course, but students often can work for short or long durations of time as it fits their schedules.

Some drawbacks exist, of course. First, many online courses still are in their infancy, so they can change fairly regularly as curriculum writers and programmers perfect the content and its transmission. In addition, state regulatory boards have been slow to accept online real estate education for continuing-education credit. Just as they have tried to apply newspaper-based property listing regulations to Internet listings, regulatory boards understandably are trying to apply classroom-based standards to Internet education. It will take a while before more than a smattering of states give credit for online courses due to concerns over verification of student identities in electronic formats. Another drawback: The courses lack the face-to-face networking that many people enjoy when they gather for a class.

Despite these negatives, many real estate organizations that provide classroom education actively are offering, developing, or exploring online courses. But converting existing courses into e-courses can be a big task. The education method can be very different, and some students prefer live instruction and interaction with other students, while others work best at their own pace. In some cases, courses that have been adapted for CD-ROMs are the most likely candidates for Web-based courses.

For example, the Commercial Investment Real Estate Institute (http://www.ccim.com/) is expanding its online-education presence. It already has versions of two core designation courses that include in-class sessions along with prestudy online forums for student-to-student and student-to-instructor exchanges. Jonathan Salk, vice president of education, reports that CIREI’s popular Introduction to Commercial Investment Real Estate Analysis, which long has been available in CD-ROM format, is being revised this year for a relaunch that will include an online version.

For professionals who already have earned their CCIM designation, Salk says CIREI is looking at Web versions of postdesignation courses such as a technology course developed with Hewlett-Packard and a new corporate real estate course.

In a related field, the Appraisal Institute (http://www.appraisalinstitute.org/) has had courses online since June 1998, Martinez says. Online offerings include seminars such as Internet Search Strategies for Real Estate Appraisal and Appraising from Blueprints and Specifications. The site posts state-by-state continuing education credit approvals.

Community Course Connections
Many other online-education opportunities exist for business, technology, and other studies. The following sites are samples of what’s available.

A variety of training is available on the Community Online Education Web site at http://educationonline.hypermart.net/, which offers six-month and one-year courses on topics ranging from Microsoft Word 2000 and Excel 2000 to databases and health and safety. You access an online course as many times as necessary and at any time during the purchased time period; courses use StreamMaker programming to send course materials to your computer.

For an extensive listing of online education courses offered by U.S. universities, visit http://www.newpromise.com, which lists 4,000 courses offered by accredited higher education institutions. These listings range from undergraduate certification courses to master’s programs offered by such schools as the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, and Pennsylvania State University.

To find out if a particular university or college offers online education, simply go to the school’s Web site and look for information about online, distance-education, or distance-learning opportunities.

John Zipperer

Tech Links is written by John Zipperer, new-media editor of the Commercial Investment Real Estate Institute. Contact him at (312) 321-4466 or jzipperer@cirei.com.

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