Distance learning continues to grow in popularity as more and more students enroll in higher education as well as professional training courses online. While this seems like a relatively recent phenomenon, students have been able to participate in distance learning for over 170 years, in one form or another. Sir Isaac Pitman’s shorthand course was the first correspondence class offered in 1840, and in 1858 the University of London began to offer degrees based on distance learning.
As technology has continued to make it easier for both organizations and students to participate in distance learning, there are steps that need to be taken to combat instances of fraud. In addition to cheating on classwork and exams that are administered, fraud rings have targeted financial aid applications in order to take out loans meant for legitimate students. In fact, in 2011, the Office of the Inspector General examined eight schools who had disbursed nearly $222 million in financial aid to more than 42,000 distance education students who did not earn any academic credits during the payment period.
There are a number of steps that institutions can take to avoid this, including:
- Re-examine the cost of attendance for distance learning students and approve disbursements for educational expenses only
- Split federal funding into smaller amounts
- Clearly define “attendance” and adjust Pell Grants for students who attend only some of the courses in which they enroll
- Establish robust identity verification and fraud prevention processes
Online proctoring of exams and advanced identity verification will ensure that financial aid applicants and students participating in online courses are who they claim to be. Knowledge-based authentication/out-of-wallet questions that only the student would know helps establish identity and deters fraud in online education and distance learning. There are also other technology solutions, such as facial recognition, that are extremely beneficial in preventing cheating.
Check out our History of Distance Learning Infographic for more insight into the world of online education and training.
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