Distance learning courses are becoming more and more common in schools and universities all over the world. A 2018 report by the Babson Survey Research Group indicated that over 30% of all higher education students in the United States took at least one distance education course, and over 3 million students in the US now exclusively take online courses. But how does distance learning work and why do so many people take distance learning courses? In this article, we’ll give you an overview of distance learning and take you through some pros and cons.
Overview of Distance Learning Courses
Distance learning simply refers to an educational course in which the teacher and students are in different locations, and the teaching is delivered over the internet. Although a simple concept, there are numerous ways distance learning courses are conducted, including:
The most common type of distance learning, online courses only require students to have access to the internet. Instructors put lessons and coursework online, which students can access on their own time and complete when their schedule allows.
Conferencing is the most similar to classroom learning, in that students and teachers are connected over video or audio conferencing and receive lessons this way. It provides less flexibility than online courses but provides students easier access to help from the instructor and other students.
For students without reliable access to the internet, correspondence courses are done through the traditional post office system. Students receive their coursework through the mail and return assignments the same way.
Hybrid courses are a blend of distance learning with traditional classroom instruction. In hybrid courses, many lessons are delivered online, but students will still be required to attend some lessons in the classroom.
You may think that distance learning is only available for a small number of classes, or that you can only earn an associate’s or no degree through distance learning. However, many colleges and universities now offer full degrees solely through distance learning, including bachelor’s master’s and even doctorate degrees.
Why do people choose distance learning courses?
Distance learning is ideal for students who work or take care of children and need more flexibility in their class schedule, or for students without reliable transportation or who live too far away from a university or college to make daily attendance practical. It can also be ideal for students dealing with chronic illness, disability, or mobility issues. Below, we’ll take you through some pros and cons of distance learning.
Distance learning courses offer flexibility above that of a traditional classroom model in a number of ways. First off, students have greater flexibility in their schedule. Distance learning allows students to access courses and complete assignments at their own convenience. This is especially useful for students who have to work full time or for parents taking care of children.
Of course, some types of distance learning require students to be present, at least online, during the actual scheduled lecture. While this can be inconvenient for some, it still provides flexibility for those who don’t live near the school. Students who don’t live close to a college campus, or who have difficulty commuting can still attain a college education through distance learning.
While some distance learning schedules and deadlines are structured to be the same as classroom learning, most provide variability with their assignment and course completion deadlines.
Students will still need to do their reading and assignments, and often have due dates throughout the length of the course, but within those restrictions there is still a lot of freedom to work on assignments when it is convenient for the student. If they find they have a few days free, they can take the time to get ahead for when their schedule gets busy. Some distance learning courses don’t even have any deadlines, providing students complete freedom to learn when they want.
One of the major advantages of distance learning is the availability of courses that might not be otherwise accessible to students. If you attend a local college that doesn’t have a robust science department, you may be able to take a distance learning course through another college or university and still get credit toward your degree.
Access to instructors and other students
One of the benefits of a traditional classroom learning model is that you are in the same room with the instructor and several other students. If you get lost or don’t understand something, you have a wealth of resources right there to help you. Distance learning can make it difficult to have this same access. Although you can email your instructor and receive help, you often have to wait and may not receive the level of help that would be available in a classroom.
Discipline and Organization
Perhaps the major benefit to distance learning is the scheduling flexibility it provides, but for students who have difficulty organizing their own schedules or motivating themselves, this can be a huge negative. The structured nature of traditional learning makes it easy for students to accomplish the reading and assignments in manageable chunks. If left to themselves, these same students might put off everything until the last minute, severely affecting their learning and grades.
Attending courses in a physical classroom provides the added social perks of the traditional college experience. College students can make friends, join clubs, attend campus events, and more. While distance learning can provide an education that is just as high quality as traditional learning, students may miss out on these social benefits.
Although distance learning courses provide many benefits to students, they may not be for everyone. However, the access to a quality education that is offered to busy students or students who don’t live near a university is an incredible thing. We’ve never had more educated people in our society, and now education is truly available for everyone.