Employers are increasingly accepting of diplomas and degrees earned online, as many go back to school hoping to find new opportunities.

Larry Lawrence is taking online courses at McMaster University, hoping to get a new job.

"Everybody has a computer," he says, "and if people can look and find something that interests them and go towards that, sometimes that leads to a new job."

According to Agency Employment Services in Waterloo, more clients are going back to school and looking for a career change, but want to balance their studies with their current jobs and personal life.

Bonnie Lawrence of Agency Employment Services says "It's not easy, especially as you're getting older, to go out, quit your job and go back to school. So a lot of them are doing online courses."

And a 2008 survey by Vault Incorporated shows online learning is increasingly accepted by employers.

The survey found 83 per cent of employers think online degrees are more acceptable than five years ago.

In addition, 49 per cent had encountered applicants with online degrees and 19 per cent actually hired a candidate who had only an online degree.

And while 63 per cent said they would favour job candidates with traditional degrees, 35 per cent said they would give them equal consideration.

Depending on where you choose to study, your employer may not even know the courses were done online.

Cathy Kelly or the Centre for Extended Learning at the University of Waterloo says "On a student's transcript or degree they end up with, there's no distinction made about whether or not they pursued their courses online or in the classroom."

So where you study, which online course provider you choose, and how long it takes for you to graduate, may all factor in to an employer's perspective.

Bonnie says "Ones that, you know, you can take six months to finish and stuff like that, yeah, that's a little bit different. It's the ones that, university, college, that really has the time restraints, that you only have so long to finish these classes, that shows an employer that you're really, really trying."

And as more colleges and universities offer online courses, diploma programs and degrees, and they are more accepted by employers, it becomes more difficult to distinguish between legitimate educators and scams.

With diploma and degree 'mills,' if you send them a cheque, they'll send you a fake certificate.

Waterloo Regional police fraud investigators say they aren't aware of any local cases, but scams have been investigated in the U.S. and complaints about some course provider are well-documented online.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities says private career colleges must be registered and approved by the provincial government, and you should do your research before you enroll. That's because there's no legal protection if you're enrolled in an unapproved program.

The Ministry also says they are currently working with those involved to establish policies on how online and distance education programs might be delivered by private career colleges.

You also need to be aware that legitimate courses may be recognized by some employers, but not by other organizations.

For example, Larry has taken a home study course on addiction, but it's not on the CACCF (Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation) Web site list of accepted criteria.

Larry says, "An employer might think that that was a good idea that you've taken it and congratulate you for it, but as far as furthering your education, it won't help me."

Either way he hopes the online studies will help him get a new job, and says "It makes you feel good when you finish them."

To find out if a school is registered with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities please visit: https://www.riccpcc.serviceontario.ca/pcc/CommandServlet?command=publicreport&config=pccProgram1Html.xml∥m_type_1=StrING∥m_value_1=EN

Coming up in part three: Find out how online learning could change the future of education.