Anywhere, Anytime, Any Method Learning
Any person who desires an education should have the opportunity to obtain one, but circumstances may
prevent some from taking advantage of this opportunity. One reason is time: people who are working or raising
a family may find that they just do not have the time to commute to school, or that a course is scheduled at
a time when they cannot attend. Physical limitations may also make it difficult for some people to attend
traditional classes. Other obstacles include cost of childcare, lack of transportation, or the geographic
location of the school.
Adult learners need a flexible education plan, one in which the student is in control of where and when the education will take place. Distance learning, which is any learning that takes place when the instructor and the student are separated by geographic location or
time, brings education to the person in their own home or workplace. It allows students to customize their
education and take single courses, programs, or even obtain full degrees at a place and time that is
convenient for them.
Distance Education can help all Americans - including workers, parents, people in rural communities and people with disabilities - go to college by removing barriers of time and place through innovative technology.
- Richard Riley, former U.S. Secretary of Education
The concept of distance learning is not new and actually started with the advent of the written
language. Throughout history, the latest communication technologies have been used in order to bring education to learners. In the 1800's, what passed for distance learning was conducted in the United States and Europe through the mail and was known as correspondence study. Today, practically all communication technologies are being used to bring educational opportunities to learners wherever they may be. Distance learning now occurs by surface mail, video, interactive or cable TV, satellite broadcast, and any number of Internet technologies (computer, e-mail, World Wide Web). Since most people use one or more of these technologies almost everyday, they should not need to purchase special equipment in order to take a course or program. A few courses may be synchronous - require the instructor and student to be online at same time - but most are not, and the student can create his own schedule of learning.
Many of the institutions that offer distance learning are fully accredited and students may already be familiar with some of these schools. Accreditation of any unknown school should be verified, especially if the student is interested in pursuing a degree or certification.
What are the Advantages of Distance Learning?
There are definite advantages to distance learning because students have more control over their own learning:
- Convenience and Flexibility - Students can learn from the convenience of their home or workplace at a time that fits their individual schedules (except for synchronous courses) even when something unexpected changes their routine.
- Time Savings - There is no time lost commuting or parking.
- Availability and Selection - Choose from a great number of courses and programs. Since geographic location is no longer an obstacle to learning, students may even find they can take courses they may never have considered previously. If students cannot find the program they are seeking, it may be possible to combine distance learning and onsite classes to obtain a degree.
- A Learning Community - Many online courses use communication tools like e-mail and threaded discussions to create a learning community of students and teachers. This makes it possible for people with similar interests to find each other.
- Credits and Financial Aid - Schools offer the same credits for distance learning as campus-based courses. If financial aid is available for onsite classes, it usually is for distance learning also.
- Technical Support and Educational Resources - Many schools have a technical support help-desk to assist you as well as online links to many educational resources (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.). Several distance learning Web sites also offer educational resource links.
What are the Disadvantages to Distance Learning?
There are some disadvantages to distance learning:
- Lack of physical interaction with the instructor and other students.
- No Immediate Feedback - In some cases, especially correspondence courses, students have to wait for feedback, perhaps for weeks.
- Need to Verify Accreditation - There are many institutions offering distance learning programs. Some of the schools may be highly reputable and well known to students. Many others may be unknown and accreditation should be verified. The fact that they are listed on the Internet does not mean that it is a real educational institution. Students can access the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Web site at www.chea.org/directories or check the official guide from The American Council on Education's "Accredited Institutions of Postsecondary Education" that can be found in any college library.
Is Distance Learning for Everyone?
Although distance learning is available to everyone, this type of learning may not be suitable for some
individuals. Since students are in charge of their own learning and have to work independently,
individuals that need a set structure or physical interaction with the instructor or other students may
find this type of learning difficult. Individuals who are not motivated and tend to procrastinate may also
need the structure of the traditional classroom.
The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) states "The number one prerequisite for success in an online course is student motivation." Students need to be self-disciplined and able to commit four to fifteen hours per week per course for course completion and study time.
Persons interested in more information on distance learning may visit the CTDLC Web site at www.ctdlc.org. There, potential
students can view the program offerings from accredited Connecticut institutions, find links to other distance learning sites, take a self-assessment test and even try a sample course!