The advent of the internet and the constant improvement in technology has affected every sphere of living for people. It has changed the way we communicate with each other, the manner through which we shop for different products and services, and it has also affected how we learn or gain new knowledge.
Technology has impacted education not only in the methods that it uses to teach, but also in the way in which it is delivered to students. Before the internet, students from all over the world would have no other option but to attend university in person.
This often meant moving to a different country or city, and personally interacting in brick and mortar classrooms.
However, times have changed, and now anyone from anywhere in the world can attend a class or obtain a degree without ever stepping foot into the physical place where classes are held.
Welcome to the world of distance learning!
What is distance learning?
Also called distance education, distance learning is a method of studying where students do not need to be present in a physical classroom, but can take classes and learn through virtual methods.
This method of learning uses the internet’s advantages and can be done through broadcasting live lectures or pre-recorded videos.
How does distance learning work?
If you have always wanted to take a certain course, but have found no available classes in your location, you can head to the internet and search for it. There is a great availability of courses ranging from every possible subject and various universities or accredited institutions.
After you find a course which fits your needs, you sign up for it the same way you would for a physical classroom. You might or might not have to pay a fee, depending on the platform, class, or instructor that you have selected.
The courses can be live broadcasts, with a certain schedule and you will have to be present in those broadcasts. You might be able to see the professor and you might also be required to turn on your camera so the professor can also see the rest of his or her class. The lecture is then delivered as it normally would in a physical classroom.
Besides live broadcast, the course could also be taught through pre-recorded lectures. This could mean that each lecture is scheduled to be posted at a certain time and you will typically have one week to watch it, before the next lecture is posted.
On the other hand, video lectures could all be posted at the beginning of the course and you can go through the videos at your own pace without a schedule.
Nevertheless, all these methods of distance learning have the same things in common. In each lecture the instructor will communicate the relevant information to the course, which is usually outlined in a syllabus.
Throughout the lectures, there might be short quizzes, where you have to use your computer to answer, and you will typically receive assignments and due dates for them. At the end of the course, there might even be a final examination which you can complete from your computer and submit it for the instructor to grade.
Most often, whenever you pay a fee for the course, you will receive a certificate of completion for the course, or if you register for an online degree, you will obtain a diploma after fulfilling all the credit requirements.
What are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
Fact: Isaac Pitman, who is considered to be the pioneer of correspondence education, introduced this way of studying in England in 1840.
Throughout the years, different forms of virtual education have emerged. The most recent and most common is distance learning in what are called Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs. MOOCs are virtual classrooms for a course where a very high number of students register. These classes are often taught by high-quality instructors from prestigious universities, such as Princeton, Harvard, or Stanford University.
The goal of MOOCs is to spread education throughout the masses, and so more often than not, classes are free of charge, with the possibility of paying a fee for obtaining a certificate of completion. On the other hand, another form of virtual education which has been present since the mid 19th century, even before the internet is correspondence education.
What is the difference between distance education and correspondence education?
Correspondence education was invented due to the inability of people to attend courses in physical presence. These were people who were working and did not have free time during regular class hours.
So to make education more accessible to them, educational institutions decided to give them the opportunity to have their course materials mailed to them, wherein they would then teach themselves at their own pace.
Nowadays, correspondence education is still a widespread used method, except that course materials are sent directly to the students via e-mail or some other form through the internet.
Unlike distance education, where students and the instructor can communicate with each other freely through virtual methods, correspondence education is more a one-way communication between instructor and student.
The instructor sends the student the materials and the student is responsible for acquiring the required knowledge to pass examinations. On one hand, correspondence education gives more freedom to students, since once the course materials are delivered to the student, it is entirely his or her responsibility to learn it.
On the other hand, for correspondence education to be successful, students have to be motivated to learn on their own without any encouragement from fellow peers or educators to guide them throughout the material and offer advice and insights.
So which one is better?
It depends on the type of student.
If you are more of a self-motivated student, who likes to learn on your own pace without the pressure of deadlines, then correspondence education is more suitable for you.
However, if you like interaction during your learning and need an instructor to ask questions and obtain knowledge from them, distance learning is much better.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning?
The advantages and disadvantages of distance learning depend on the perspective of the student.
The advantages are:
- You can take courses and learn from any university and/or instructor in the world
- You make your own studying schedule during the time the course is given
- You can get a degree from any university without leaving your home country as long as you complete the required courses successfully
- You do not need to leave your employment position, but can study whenever you have time and your job schedule allows it
- You can communicate and interact not only with the professor through virtual means, but also with other people around the world who are taking the same course as you. This interaction can be done via email or chat rooms, and the students can be from different cultures or countries. This assists people in gaining more insight and expose themselves to different points of view that they might not have gained in a typical physical classroom with less diversity
- Distance learning courses or degrees often cost much less than formally registering in a classroom at a physical university. As mentioned before, if you register in MOOCs, the courses are usually free of charge.
The disadvantages of distance learning are:
- Lack of physical social interaction that is found in a typical, traditional classroom. Students can only engage and share opinions through virtual means in chatrooms or broadcasts, but are not able to physically interact with each other
- It does not fit all types of learners. If you are someone who needs constant motivation and support from professors or instructors, then distance learning is not for you, since instructors are not always available to offer assistance in the same way that they would be in a traditional classroom
- Some courses required to complete a degree may not be available online. Sometimes universities make many required courses online to give students a feel of their teaching methodologies, quality, and value. After you complete those courses, to get the degree you might be required to attend some classes in person. These classes will most likely be less affordable, or you will not be able to travel to the university to take them.
- You need to be technologically savvy. If you are a person who is not as comfortable to working with technology, then distance learning will not suit you. Distance learning requires students to be able to operate with at least a minimum knowledge of different chat rooms, online examinations, and interaction, and many people do not feel comfortable if they do not even have physical material to study from.
In summary, distance learning has many benefits which the physical classroom and correspondence learning do not necessarily have. Despite distance learning advantages and disadvantages, it is up to each person to weigh the costs and benefits of enrolling in a virtual classroom or attending a class in person.
Both options give different types of learners a comfortable environment to gain new knowledge and skills, and accommodate their educational needs.