Types of Distance Learning Methods
Distance learning is a flexible, versatile concept that changes not only where and when students can learn, but also the methods by which they learn. There are different types of distance learning methods. A traditional, somewhat outdated method of distance learning is correspondence through regular mail. Correspondence programs have been around for over a century, and the method hasn’t changed all that much
Students who register for a correspondence course are mailed all of their material, which usually includes a course overview, study guide, all of the reading materials, and each assignment. Students work through material at home at their own pace, going over the reading and following the course structure. They complete assignments in order, sending them out to be graded and returned by the professor. Doing distance learning by correspondence will require the use of a printer and possibly a fax. Typically, the assignments are printed and mailed back to be graded, but some teachers may want the assignment sent in sooner by fax. While students are allowed to work at their own pace more or less, the assignments must be completed within a reasonable amount of time.
Instead of going through a reading packet or textbook as a way to cover the material involved in a particular course, students might instead have access to prerecorded lectures given by the teacher. These lectures might be broadcast on a local television station, especially on a college-run television station. If they air at inconvenient times, a college or university might have copies of the lectures available in the library, or they might be available in an online database for download. This can shorten the learning process somewhat, if the student is a slow reader or learns better aurally. Video lectures can also add a nice complement to required reading, helping to clarify something that was still confusing to a student after completing the reading assignment.
Other common distance learning methods might instead take the form of an interactive DVD-ROM instead of a simple textbook or prerecorded lecture. Students utilizing this method of learning will likely find that all of their course materials, from syllabuses to assignments and self-tests, will be included on the DVD(s). DVDs have an advantage over traditional learning tools because they can present information using a variety of different methods and means. Along with printed text, the DVD will have a wealth of audiovisual components. Sounds can be used to add to the experience, such as having the correct pronunciation of words included when learning a foreign language or listening to a collection of songs native to a geographic area being studied. The lesson might contain embedded videos, such as a short movie clip that explains a certain plot element being discussed in a screenwriting course. The DVD will have interactive study guides and exams where students can quiz themselves to see how their studies are progressing. The advantage of learning via DVD is that all of the class resources are included in one location, and the lessons are presented using several teaching methods, which makes them very effective.
Today’s world is becoming more and more interconnected and mobile. One of the most attractive elements of distance learning is the ability to learn from anywhere. Mobile learning takes it to the highest level, allowing students to roam wherever their travels take them and still keep up with their education. This type of distance learning has really come to the forefront with the popularity of smartphones, netbooks, and tablet computers. The smaller devices such as phones and pocket PCs make good use of flashcards as a learning tool, as well as audio file applications. Netbooks and tablet computers can run larger educational applications, which means students are not required to be in a predetermined location in order to learn.
An emerging, hybrid form of distance learning is referred to as integrated distance learning. Integrated distance learning blends the best elements of distance learning and traditional classroom-based, face-to-face learning. This program offers greater flexibility than a traditional course because some of the learning is done at home on the students’ own time, when it fits into their schedule. The class also meets a handful of times to maintain the benefit of face-to-face interaction. This is becoming especially popular in MBA programs where busy students have a hard time committing to the rigid schedule of a traditional course but still need the invaluable experience of networking, making presentations, completing group work, and orienting themselves to a team approach.
As you can see, distance learning methods are always evolving. No matter which method appeals most to a given student, distance learning provides approaches to fit each student’s needs. Distance learning through correspondence programs might best suit someone who is less than proficient in the use of technology. With very little instructor interaction and no classmate interaction, students who choose this option need to be able to work independently and keep themselves on track. Mobile distance learning offers the opposite experience. People have become accustomed to lightning-fast responses when working from their smartphone while out and about; it’s no different for mobile learning. Students can tweet or blog or post on forums with questions and receive responses and feedback instantly. Students from both ends of the spectrum, or anywhere in between, can find an appropriate distance learning method to make use of.
Last Updated: 05/20/2014
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