Distance learning is most easily defined as an educational model where the student and the teacher are in locations different from one another while the instruction is taking place. The use of technology is an inherent part of the process. Technology such as computers, the Internet, televisions, telephones, and mobile phones are used to bridge the gap between teacher and student, bringing material from one to the other and back again as the learning process takes place.
Distance learning can take place synchronously, with students and teachers interacting in real time from their various locations, or more commonly asynchronously, with students and teachers communicating at different times via online message boards, forums, and email. Online learning offers students the chance to attend college courses, certificate programs, and vocational classes occurring all over the world. Courses are taught in a variety of formats: telecourses, online courses, videotaped courses, CD-ROM/DVD-ROM courses, correspondence courses, or live-interactive courses.
With today's technology, online learning is able to provide students with more choices of majors than ever before. Students with a head for numbers and a high attention to detail might choose to major in accounting. Students more interested in the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and human patterns of behavior might choose to study psychology instead. Distance schools offer criminal justice programs, marketing degrees, a foundation in real estate, and even majors such as arts, literature, nursing, and education.
Students can choose to take courses as they interest them, one at a time, or pursue a variety of degrees. Schools offer certificate programs, associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, and even advanced degrees such as master's and doctoral degrees. With all of the available options, everyone can benefit from distance education. The ability to set the pace makes distance education a great choice for the casual student, the busy working professional, and everyone in between.
The number-one benefit of an online learning program is the flexibility it allows. Students of every age group, educational background, and geographic area are taking advantage of the multitude of distance learning opportunities available. They are achieving educational success by choosing programs tailored to their specific needs and taking classes that conform to their schedules, not the other way around. The freedom and flexibility of distance education offers students career paths, knowledge, and experiences that would never be available to them with traditional campus-based learning
Advantages of Distance Education
There are many advantages to online learning as an education choice for students. It may be more affordable, but it's also more convenient, self-paced and individualized than conventional methods of learning. With many options available, there is a suitable choice for everyone.
One advantage of distance education is that classes, lectures, examinations and other aspects of one's coursework are accessible from any computer with Internet access. If one anticipates the need to use public access computers or the computer of a friend or family member, his or her program information is available. This opens up opportunities for students in any location.
Online courses and programs tend to be more cost-efficient and affordable than traditional learning environments. Often, tuition costs are less. Overhead costs are less for schools and so they can offer the savings to their students. Additionally, students no longer need to commute to class, live on campus or incur other costs associated with traditional colleges or universities.
Students are offered opportunities to create their own customized education through flexible scheduling, course selection and use of various learning methods. Because students learn in different ways, classes are offered with a variety of approaches. Students may select courses that allow them to chat and interact with fellow students or simply complete coursework. It's up to the student's preference.
Because online learning opportunities often utilize the newest developments in technology, students are able to explore new technology developments and learn to use advancing trends in communication methods.
Also, because many classes are self-paced, students may achieve learning in more effective ways that help them advance through the world.
Can Access From Any Computer
Unlike traditional learning settings where students may only obtain class information and course assignments by physically going to the classroom, lessons and information may be accessed from any computer when utilizing distance learning methods. This is a definite advantage to seeking one's degree or education through an online setting.
Because of this, students who otherwise might not have an opportunity to attend class may reap the benefits of education. For instance, students who are ill, injured or disabled and unable to attend class in a classroom may obtain degrees or certifications by attending online classes through their laptops.
Many rural area students must drive a hundred miles or more to attend classes if they go to a traditional university or college. Distance education provides opportunities for students to get the same education simply by logging online for class.
While text books are still often used for classwork, students can get lecture information, test preparation and the benefits of class discussion through interactive methods online. Students can access these opportunities by using any computer, provided they know their log-in information and passwords. This is a convenience for students who may not own their own computer or who travel often. Any computer becomes a portal to knowledge and education.
Distance Education Is More Cost Efficient
There are many reasons that online learning is considered to be more cost efficient than more traditional methods of receiving an education, whether it's an undergraduate degree or corporate training (and all other types in between). Because it is often considered more cost efficient, the doors to education are opened up to many who otherwise would be unable to afford additional learning.
One reason that online education is considered more cost efficient is that schools, colleges and universities do not have to incur the overhead costs that conventional learning environments must. There are no classrooms to heat or cool, furnish or for which technology need be provided. Students do not come to campus, so a full campus of buildings with dorms, classrooms and student lounge areas is unnecessary.
Additionally, distance education becomes more cost efficient for the student because he or she incurs fewer costs to go to class. Many students in rural areas must travel nearly 100 miles to attend class at a college or university. Online classes make traveling a non-issue. Students may attend class by simply logging on using their computer, which many already have prior to enrolling.
Major corporations, government entities and schools find that online school is a much more affordable option for providing training and continuing education to their employees and professionals. The costs to provide a webinar for their staff are much less than the costs to bring in a trainer. When companies bring in trainers to conduct seminars, there are travel and lodging costs to pay in addition to compensating the trainer for his or her expertise and time.
Customized Online Education
Students who utilize distance learning often have an opportunity to customize their education process. Through a variety of programs, class options and unique interactions with students from all over the world, the education that is received through e-learning is often unique from classes in traditional model learning environments.
Students may select from asynchronous and synchronous courses as one way to customize their educations. Asynchronous courses are available at any time the student chooses to log in to the class. There are no set times for lectures or timed class discussions. Students may pick up their assignments and listen to lectures during the time they have available. These kinds of classes allow for flexibility that helps a student maintain his or her other professional and personal responsibilities. Synchronous classes are available at scheduled times, and students must log in with professors and classmates in order to get credit. These classes involve more direct interaction and often include group chats and video conferences. Students may select either type of course depending on the programs they choose and their own personal learning styles, in addition to what works with their schedules.
Additionally, students have many options regrading the types of programs they select. Thousands of opportunities exist for online learning, and students may pick and choose the options they prefer. Often, even within course selections, students have the opportunity to customize their education experiences just by interacting more and communicating with other members of the class, thus increasing their exposure to new ideas and insights.
Increases Knowledge of Technology
Students who are not overly tech-savvy often learn much more than just the lessons from the curriculum when employing distance learning. The world of distance education has evolved drastically from the days of only using mail correspondence for its coursework and examinations.
Students who engage in e-learning often are required to take advantage of advanced technology. Lectures are provided in MP3 format, which may be downloaded and played on a computer or an MP3 player as students are "on the go." Video conferencing is available with the use of webcams, which are included as accessories on many modern computers. Chat rooms and instant messaging allow for up-to-the-minute discussions. Live or prepared webinars are used to teach important core concepts. Many students wouldn't take part in these activities unless provided with opportunities through their coursework.
Additionally, many older or senior students participate in distance program opportunities. These older students get accustomed to using the Internet for their lessons and for research for their assignments. They learn how to search for information and use social networking websites, as well.
Some assignments require learning to use special software or obtaining the skills to transform a zip file into readable information or turning a document into a .pdf file.
Students often obtain more than just their degrees when using online resources to further their education; they also learn life skills.
Interactivity with Online Instructors
Communication between students and instructors in online programs is often enhanced compared to communication in traditional educational settings. Students who participate in online learning often receive more personalized attention from their instructors. This is possible because communication between the instructor and student is a necessary component for class success.
Often, instantaneous messaging (or regular communication) occurs between instructors and students through online chats or numerous email messages. Typical classroom settings often do not allow for the individualized attention that online learning can provide. In conventional classrooms, many students compete for the teacher's attention. While there may still be a significant number of students who are participating in an instructor's class, an instructor is responsible for replying to each and every question, request and message from every student.
Additionally, students are often encouraged to participate in call-in seminars where they may speak to their professors and ask them questions directly and receive instant answers.
Interacting with one's professors or teachers is much more enhanced in the distance learning environment, especially compared to traditional settings. With the use of technology and direct contact with professors, students may communicate and interact with their instructors day or night. Often, instructors even allow students to text message or instant-message (IM) them about questions they may have concerning assignments or examinations. By using the most up-to-date methods of communication, interactivity between students and instructors is at an all-time high.
Self-paced Online Learning
Students who live busy lives will appreciate the fact that many programs and courses may be completed at one's own pace. Self-paced classes and courses are becoming more and more popular as student demographics prove that busy lives and real-life responsibilities are typical parts of most students' lives. Many self-paced courses offer an open enrollment period. This means that a student may enroll in any course at any time of the year. The courses are not based on a semester's schedule as traditional college classes are, typically. Students don't have to wait until the start of a semester if they have made the decision to attend school. Classwork may start as soon as a student is accepted into a program and enrolls in the class.
Students enjoy the fact that self-paced classes do not designate due dates for assignments or dates for examinations. In traditional classes, if a student cannot complete an assignment on time because of a work schedule or a sick family member, a low grade is given for the assignment. In self-paced classes, a student is able to take appropriate time to complete an assignment and turn it in when finished, without any penalties.
Self-paced classes allow for students to complete their coursework quickly or to take extra time to finish, if necessary. These classes are perfect for a student who wishes to work hard for a short amount of time in order to complete a class sooner than would be possible in a traditional environment. Additionally, if a student has the drive to further his education, but little extra time, he is given the opportunity to complete classes within an extended amount of time.
Of concern to many, one of the realities of distance learning is that the education one receives is truly effective and just as good, if not better, than any traditional learning environment can offer. Students experience effective learning through various techniques, interactions and the courses they take.
In many traditional learning environments where students may be one of 500 in a lecture hall, it's very difficult to get an appointment to speak to one's professor or teacher. In an online learning environment, students often have more accessibility to their teachers and professors through instant messaging, discussion boards and direct email communication. This helps to enhance the student experience and to help a student get questions answered about assignments or concepts.
Students have the opportunity to achieve better comprehension of course material. By being able to pace themselves in coursework, they don't have to move beyond a concept before they have a good understanding of it. By being able to take their time, students learn more. Additionally, because many classes are available when students are available, students are able to give their classes full concentration, instead of worrying that they should be at work or doing something else.
Many classes are centered toward ways that students learn best. This is especially the case when students have a variety of courses to pick from when working toward their degrees or certificates. Some students function better when taking lecture-based courses, while others learn better in a more open, creative environment. With the wide variety of selection of classes, students may achieve more by being able to pick classes that enhance their learning skills.
Disadvantages of Online Learning
Despite the fact that distance learning has many advantages for students, it also has some definite disadvantages to consider before enrolling for classes. It's best for a student to weigh the advantages and disadvantages in order to come to an informed conclusion.
One concern that students may have is the level of learning they may receive and whether or not their professors will be as qualified as teachers in more conventional learning environments. With many classes offering "open book" examinations, one may wonder whether the information is really learned by students or if students simply learn to research the information for tests. Additionally, many professors who do not fare well in traditional classrooms (or have never taught in front of a class) find themselves leading online courses. This may be a concern to students.
Equipment or Internet connection malfunctions can trigger big trouble for students involved in online learning. Essentially, it can completely shut down one's ability to complete a class or an assignment.
There are often hidden fees for online courses that do not appear until the very last keystrokes when enrolling for e-learning. This is a definite disadvantage for students who are trying to be cost-efficient and are working on a budget.
Finally, many employers scrutinize one's online education when applying for jobs. If a student lists a more traditional schooling experience, employers often do not even question it. The overall acceptance of online education is growing, but it is still a challenge for many potential employees.
Learning Quality Concerns
When enrolling in any type of classes, students should be concerned with what the quality of learning will be as a result. Learning quality can be considered one potential disadvantage to distance education opportunities. Students often take "open book" examinations that do not require comprehension of material; a lack of interaction may exist between students and professors; and course work is too incomplete and hurried.
In many online courses, "open book" examinations are the typical testing method to determine how well students have comprehended the material. Critics often argue that these kinds of exams only teach students to be familiar with their text books or notes, not with the material, itself. These kinds of examinations do not encourage the type of life-long learning that is needed to truly learn the course material.
Direct interaction between students and professors often has a significant impact on learning quality within any learning environment. When a course is given over the Internet, the level of direct interaction during class time between students and professors is directly affected. If students don't have an opportunity to ask questions during lectures or the assignment of projects, learning and effective performance may be decreased in an online education environment.
Many classes are the type that may be completed at a student's own pace. While in theory, this may sound like an advantage that will allow an ambitious student to acquire his or her education more quickly, it may actually put the student at a disadvantage. By completing coursework too quickly, the material may not be fully learned. Additionally, the student may not perform to the utmost of his or her abilities due to rushing or attempting to hurry through information.
Hidden Fees for Online College Courses
As with attending a traditional college or university, hidden fees seem to be common in distance learning opportunities. Typically, the fees remain hidden until it's time for final approval. These fees may be for a variety of purposes, but unless they are already factored into the tuition costs, you are apt to see them at some point later, during the enrollment process.
Most colleges and universities charge additional fees on top of tuition costs to help provide funding for a variety of programs at the school. Fees may help fund student healthcare, athletics, campus upgrades and additions, or computers and technology. While the purposes of these funds may be legitimate and positive for the advancement of the school, most students don't benefit from what these funds work to improve, especially students who never step foot on campus because they are online students.
Online courses often have their set of hidden fees that differ from the usual extra fees. Schools often charge fees to help offset the costs for production of the classes, licensing fees or copyrights costs. Schools also incur costs to design and develop classes and coursework and to evaluate student, teacher and class performance.
Additional hidden fees may result due to special equipment, such as webcams or Internet connections, needed for online classes. Some classes may require specific software, as well, which will cause students to incur extra costs.
Problems with Internet Connections and Online Classes
Distance learning classes require the use of the Internet. Class information, assignments, lectures and other aspects of courses are acquired from online access or emails. Problems arise if one's Internet connection is not fast enough to utilize all class aspects, or if one's Internet access fails, or when one must access the Internet via public access computers.
Some online classes require more from a student's Internet access than others. For instance, many classes have sizable downloads that students must access in order to learn about assignments or information for examinations. If a student's Internet is not fast enough to allow the student to download necessary documents effectively, then he or she will lose out. Additionally, many classes include lectures that must be accessed through a video component. If one's Internet does not allow transmission of this video lecture, a student may miss important information.
If a student's Internet access fails or is temporarily interrupted for any reason, he or she may miss integral parts of the class, such as lectures, examinations, assignments or other necessary components. Having steady Internet access is vital to being able to complete a distance education program successfully. Without steady Internet access, a student cannot be guaranteed a positive learning experience.
It is sometimes a real inconvenience to use public access computers because one does not have an Internet connection at home. Public access computers are often only available for a specified length of time, which at times may not be sufficient to complete classwork. Additionally, relying on wireless internet connections (wi-fi) feeds at coffee shops or other locations is not always an advantage for studying. Public areas where wi-fi is available are not always good study environments and may not be open during the hours that a student has available in which to study.
Problems with Equipment
Students who engage in distance learning depend on their equipment in order to complete their classes and in order to obtain a degree or an expert certification. In order to successfully complete classes, equipment must be working properly, dependably and unfailingly. When there is an equipment malfunction, it can cause serious problems for a student taking online courses.
A student's primary need when engaging in e-learning is his or her computer. One's computer not only must have appropriate memory capacity to store information and software on its hard drive, but it also must have enough memory (RAM) to run all functions that are required when taking an online course. This can include being able to stream video or audio files, which requires more memory. Additionally, if one's computer contracts a virus or gets bogged down with too much spyware, its functions may be severely limited or halted altogether. Once in awhile, updates to a computer will cause certain software malfunctions to occur, which could cause problems for a student who needs to complete an assignment or log into class.
Email access may be one of the primary ways that a student communicates with his or her professor about class information. If one's email access malfunctions, it can severely limit a student's ability to keep up in class or learn about new assignments or critiques.
One way that many professors communicate with their students is through call-in discussions. If a student has a phone with very little battery or signal, his or her ability to engage in these discussions will be limited, which will impact his or her grade for the class. Having a functional land-line phone or cell phone is necessary for success.
Negative View of Online Learning By Employers
Many employers have a negative view of distance learning when interviewing potential employees. Their conceptions about online learning vary considerably, but many feel that students who have earned degrees through online learning did not receive a quality learning experience, lacked commitment to attend a "real" college or failed to acquire a positive experience related to the work world.
Many employers feel that online classes fail to teach as much as traditional classrooms. They perceive that it's a watered-down version of a real education. Many employers feel that professors and teachers of online classes are not as accomplished as those who teach in traditional environments. Employers have become cynical due to non-accredited schools boasting false accolades and they often lump all online learning experiences into this category.
Students who have graduated from a typical four-year university or college are viewed as having committed to a long-term goal. While students may commit to this same goal, employers do not always perceive their commitment equally. Many employers view this is an easier alternative to traditional schooling.
Many students who are recent graduates do not have any work experience related to their future careers. However, employers look at one's extra-curricular activities during college as an indicator of a student's potential success. For example, students who belong to organizations and student groups or who are leaders in student government are viewed as achievers who will succeed. By obtaining one's degree through online learning, a student may not have had the opportunity to participate in such activities, which may make them appear to be less conscientious or ambitious when compared to other candidates.
Concerns about Professors
When enrolling for any type of class, one of the biggest concerns for students is whether or not a good teacher or professor instructs the class. This is no different when enrolling for a distance learning class. However, often it's not just a worry about whether the teacher is good; it's often a worry about the teacher, in general. Many people feel that online classes are at a disadvantage because teachers who lead online courses lack qualifications, dedication and ability.
The first concern about professors for online courses is their qualifications. Some online learning environments do not require qualifications for their online instructors to be as high. If they don't have to be as qualified, teachers may not be as proficient as teachers at more traditional schools. Not requiring as much education or qualifications can result in professors being less knowledgeable about their subjects.
Some teachers and professors for online classes lack the dedication possessed by teachers who stand before a classroom full of students everyday. By not establishing that face-to-face connection, many professors fail to bond with students which creates an attitude where a professor just does his job and doesn't see his role as anything more significant. Many professors who instruct online courses lack classroom abilities that allow them to connect with students and create a positive environment where learning is encouraged. This can create a real disadvantage for students enrolled in distance education who hope to achieve a degree for lifelong learning.
Distance Learning Benefits
Last Updated: 05/18/2014
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