How do you decide what online college to attend? Often, students choose a school that they believe offers a unique course or degree program. However, the curriculum for many online classes might not be as unique as students believe.

The Pros and Cons of a Uniform Education

Increasingly, educational materials created for distance learning classes aren’t limited to the textbooks students need to purchase. Many textbook publishing companies are now developing entire online courses, complete with reading materials, assignments and even grading software, online magazine Slate reported. With course programs like these, students can take essentially the exact same class at any of the schools using it and get basically the same education.

There are some advantages to colleges using these programs. Because they are developed fully by companies whose sole role in academia is to develop course materials, they often provide a solid education to students, Slate reported. They frequently include educational videos and interactive “lab” software. In fact, the courses developed entirely by textbook companies may even be better than those developed by the colleges themselves, especially for schools that are struggling to create many online courses quickly. Additionally, some critics argue that standardizing online courses is a good thing in and of itself, because standardization makes it easier to measure the quality of the education students are getting.

However, there are negative consequences to too much uniformity among online college courses. Students tend to have even less interaction with professors in these classes – and that lack of interaction and the resulting feelings of isolation are already among the biggest problems online students face, according to The New York Times. If schools rely too much on prepackaged course curriculum, the result could be very little variance between different courses at different schools.

Keeping Unique Curriculum in Online Degree Programs

How do you know if your course was developed by a textbook publisher instead of a school? You might not. Some of these programs are customizable, and schools that choose to customize them may change their courses slightly to meet students’ needs. However, if your class includes software like MyMathLab or MyPsychLab, that might be an indication that a textbook company created all or part of your course. Most such classes are general education courses, so higher level classes in your major are probably unique to your school. Community colleges are most likely to use courses developed by textbook companies.

Whether you attend school on campus or online, you must choose one college out of the thousands of academic institutions across the country. Besides considering factors like cost and location, many students choose a school because of some aspect that stands out: high-ranking degree programs, condensed course schedules or unique classes and degree programs. The only way to get the education you want is to learn as much as possible about your desired school’s degree programs, including whether the school or a textbook company developed the courses.