Advantages/Disadvantages of Distance Learning

Advantages/Disadvantages of Distance LearningThe first and most obvious advantage of a distance learning program is the freedom to study and earn course credits outside the confines of an institutional setting. The student who chooses to pursue an online degree or correspondence course arranges a study routine that takes into account hours spent at work and time allotted for personal responsibilities and leisure. For busy people who commit to distance learning, convenience is a necessity rather than a luxury. Work, personal life, and education often overlap or intermingle as a result of financial pressures and changing social conditions. Distance learning makes far fewer demands on when and where education takes place.

Tuition at conventional four-year colleges consistently spirals upward semester after semester, leaving students squeezed for funds to continue their education. Additional expenses, which are also on the increase, include parking fees, dorm fees, activity fees, and textbooks and supplies. While tuition goes up, colleges and universities have cut back on services, lab equipment, and salaries, and have even eliminated entire courses from the budget. The result is fewer learning resources for students and, consequently, less value for the money spent to attain a degree.

  • Distance learning offers most of the same course credits as a campus-oriented university, yet at a substantially lower overall cost.
  • Many of the expenses associated with maintaining facilities on a college campus do not apply to a distance learning program.
  • Credible online universities offer an economical education to thousands of students through advanced technology rather than a vast complex of buildings and auditoriums.
  • State-of-the-art computers and programs keep pace with progressive educational techniques that professors sometimes neglect or ignore.

Disadvantages of distance learning occur at a basic human level. Responsibility and self-discipline are crucial factors in the success or failure of a distance learning program. Slack study habits go unchecked without the presence of an influential personality like a classroom instructor or professor. A pupil who doesn’t understand a problem or subject inside class can ask for help, whereas the distance learner sometimes gropes for answers without guidance. If a distance learning program provides individual assistance for students experiencing difficulties, a delayed response to questions or failure to connect may interrupt coursework for hours or days. Frustration caused by a failure to comprehend distance learning subject matter may lead to abandoning the course completely. Information technology has yet to produce an adequate substitute for cooperative, person-to-person problem solving between teacher and student.

A college campus offers social activities that distance learning programs do not provide. College-bound young people fresh out of high school look forward to joining a fraternity or sorority, attending sporting events, meeting new people, and generally experiencing the excitement of campus life. Distance learning makes no provision for physical education, nor do distance learning programs sponsor team sports. Another advantage of attending a college is that after deciding on a major, students meet in person with a graduate advisor who recommends which courses to take and when. An advisor also tracks student progress towards a degree and counsels students who have trouble selecting the right combination of courses to complete a major. On campus, the relationship between student and advisor is a personal one.

A diploma from a prestigious college or university, such as an Ivy League school, means belonging to an exclusive and privileged group that does not share the usual challenges confronting the average college graduate entering the job market. Even the “cap and gown” tradition after four years or more on an ordinary college campus holds a measure of prestige and self-esteem not easily duplicated through distance learning.

Keep in mind that as distance learning expands and improves, the disadvantages to the system will be compensated by new developments.

Benefits of Distance Learning: Time

Time spares no one, which means making each hour of the day count. Distance learning does away with unnecessary delays that slow down the educational process. Consider that classes at a conventional college campus require the student to be at a designated location, at a fixed time, on certain days of the week. Besides coordinating a weekly routine around a rigid time grid, add extra minutes of travel to campus, hunting for a parking space, and walking to class, and then figure in an equal number of minutes for the trip home. For someone who takes a course to build on an existing career or become certified in a specialized field, rearranging a daily work schedule to attend class may not be an option.

Now that computers are in almost every household, business, library, and school, instant access to abundant sources of information is literally within reach for everyone. While a few people still feel overwhelmed by technology, computer software has become easier to use as computer operation has become faster, more reliable, and more familiar to more people. Search engines sweep cyberspace quicker and with better results than ever before, spreading information at an astonishing rate. Keeping up with all the information available takes longer than finding it.

  • Besides the Internet option, distance learning courses pass knowledge through other forms of communications technology, such as interactive video.

Distance learning programs never close on weekends or for vacation, which means more freedom to handle coursework. A distance learning program features virtually unlimited access to knowledge, morning or night, seven days a week. Versatile time management also means deciding how long to study and how often. Study time divides into different portions rather than fixed hours or days. (Be aware, however, that having flexible study periods does not mean a reduced workload or less time spent completing a subject. Earning credit hours still takes dedication to the tasks required to comprehend material and finish a course.)

Time is also an advantage in distance learning programs that are not geared to occupational goals and career purposes. For anyone who believes that education is a pursuit that spans a lifetime and contributes to the overall quality of life itself, knowledge means self- fulfillment. For those who value continuing education as a way of life, distance learning offers a multitude of courses designed to enhance the quality of life without the pressure of meeting deadlines. Distance learning saves time, allows time, and rewards time.

Benefits of Distance Learning: Cost

Tuition and other cost considerations for distance learning programs take into account several variables, but the collateral savings realized through home study compared to on-campus classes are obvious: no travel expenses, no childcare services, no absence from work, and usually no out-of-state fees.

Distance learning courses do not always cost less per hour than a regular college curriculum; indeed, some online degree programs are quite expensive. What counts most is value for the dollar when selecting a distance learning provider. An online academy should be accredited, or otherwise the course credits earned may be worthless or nontransferable to another degree program. Price does not always ensure quality, because some well-advertised distance learning institutes charge high tuition rates without delivering a worthwhile education. Money wasted on coursework that cannot be applied to a genuine degree results in double the effort and expense to retake a subject. Earning useful credits begins with buying into the right program. Taking a few hours to investigate the credentials of a distance learning operation, and to compare prices, saves time and money in the long run.

Start out with a budget before deciding on a distance learning education, then search for discounts among the courses offered by several accredited institutions. After choosing the most cost-effective options, a customized, portable course package can be put together that meets the credit requirements for most degree programs. Remember to check registration fees and other charges before committing to several different programs at once.

In the decades since distance learning first became available through the Internet, computer software, and other forms of information technology, most of the early problems with electronics or communications networks have gradually been solved. Consequently, on-site educational institutions began to show more interest and invest more resources in developing distance learning techniques. Now colleges and universities that once shunned distance learning, or offered only a few non-degree courses, have introduced comprehensive programs to award degrees at every level. As more colleges go online, competition for students forces all distance learning providers to keep prices and costs under control. Again, shop around.

In comparing distance learning and campus-based education, intangible costs and benefits should be considered in addition to financial calculations. Certainly, the financial cost of an education is significant, but intangibles matter, too. Greater freedom might be considered an intangible benefit derived from fewer delays, less anxiety, increased mobility, and more choices. Distance learning programs may well provide such benefits by allowing for more profitable use of time and energy.

Benefits of Distance Learning: Convenience

The world revolves 24 hours a day, and everywhere somebody is trying get something done while there is opportunity to do it. Fewer jobs fit the “9 to 5” category as business becomes globalized and operates in different time zones all over the world, and the same is true of education. People in remote areas have few chances to attend college locally, much less to travel to another country to earn a degree. If a college or university happens to be close by, attendance still demands relocation from one place to another several times a week at a preset hour of the day. Not many people these days enjoy a “flexible schedule” that permits reshuffling appointments and obligations to suit a rigid campus routine. Then, too, there are people who are physically challenged and struggle to travel even short distances. For anybody, anywhere, convenience is opportunity. And for some people, convenience is a necessity.

Convenience matters only if abundant resources are readily available to someone interested in distance learning. Availability and access are key words for judging the convenience of a distance learning system. In addition, the step-by-step process for managing distance learning materials and methods must be comprehensible and simple to follow. A program should be compatible with the lifestyle and priorities of the user.

Think about convenience as a priority instead of an option. Convenience, in pure form, is the power to make choices and decisions on demand. Classes conducted on location at any structural facility are more labor-intensive and therefore less convenient than a learning program delivered any place, any time, and in person. Because mobility is an essential component for a distance learning program, knowledge can be delivered anywhere in a compact and convenient package instead of by sitting through a classroom lecture set to a rigid schedule.

People who need to take a course for certification or special job training may not be able to take classes during working hours. If evening classes are open, rushing to a campus location after work does not promote ideal conditions for education. Stress and fatigue can have a negative impact on the ability to study, on grades, and on job performance. The distance learning alternative fits in a pocket between work and rest without cramping either one. Distance learning is the convenient way to balance job responsibilities with work-related education.

The different methods used to deliver a distance learning curriculum offer convenience through a variety of information technologies. Lower prices for computers and computer software, and access to computers at libraries and community centers, have rapidly increased computer literacy and reduced “technophobia.” Although the emphasis so far has been on distance learning at home, other programs utilize video disks and virtual conferencing to instruct students with a combination of communications technology and conventional classroom techniques. This approach may not appear as convenient as home study, but convenience is a matter of making choices. A feeling of satisfaction that follows completion of a distance learning course indicates the right choice was made.

Benefits of Distance Learning: Tailored Education

For an education to be useful, knowledge must be applicable to rapidly changing circumstances. The communications technology boom has led to a higher volume of information exchange, which makes knowledge go out of date sooner. Education needs frequent upgrades and updates to stay current with changing trends and innovations. Keeping up with progress means knowing when to seek instruction and how much to learn.

  • Course study for a college major generally provides the core understanding of a subject. As most graduates discover upon entering the job market, new employees often find themselves sitting through training sessions to learn special skills or functions not taught in college.
  • Companies that keep pace with new developments have gradually moved away from in-house instruction to a distance learning system. Some businesses contract distance learning providers to set up corporate academies to teach and test procedures exclusive to that one company. In such cases, the distance learning provider also works with a company to “develop and deploy” training materials to prepare employees to meet company expectations. For the most part, responsibility for receiving specialized training or certification falls on the individual rather than the employer.

Individuals who need a special course to upgrade their existing skill levels do not need to review what they already know. Nor do they need to be in the same classroom with people who have different skill levels than themselves. Under such conditions, course study broadens to satisfy too many expectations, losing focus in the process. Distance learning programs excel at producing customized study materials that offer distinct categories and levels of instruction.

Specification, leverage, and integration (or convergence) are words that appear frequently in connection with distance learning. For the sake of the other three topics previously discussed—time, cost, and convenience—a distance learning program must fit the specifications and expectations of the user. Some courses may divide into sections that cover related topics on the same subject.

  • For instance, a real estate course on property values may cover residential properties and commercial properties separately. The trend in distance learning development is to produce customized courses with focused objectives that deliver detailed information about a particular subject. The advantage to whoever selects this custom material is a streamlined transfer of information that contains no unnecessary additives.

Leverage is the transference of information between digital technology and the conventional textbook/classroom format. No matter how brilliantly a distance learning program is designed, the study material is only effective if properly absorbed by the brain. The interactions that occur between the computer and the user, or between the student and the teacher, determine the areas of leverage for effectively parceling the subject matter in a distance learning program. Leverage controls how study material is digitally converted into graphics, audio, or virtual techniques from other sources. Leveraging shapes the right combination of digital techniques for the comprehension and retention of knowledge.

Integration (or convergence) brings together all the elements necessary for a distance learning program to succeed, which can include non-digital, non-computerized, “hands-on” methods. Integration connects the various educational components to complete a course of study or satisfy degree requirements. Convergence mainly refers to the overlap of information technology with the standards and practices of a college establishment. This process broadens distance learning opportunities and resources, and introduces more students and teaching professionals to the advantages of information technology as an educational tool.

Avoiding Scams

As with anything else for sale, the warning “buyer beware” applies to distance learning programs. Actually, the sales pitch to earn a degree or learn a trade at home predates information-age technology by decades, but the temptation to get something valuable quickly and easily is simple human nature. All distance learning organizations emphasize convenience and time savings as benefits, but suspect programs promise way too much of a good thing. To avoid scams, know what to look for when choosing, or refusing, a distance learning program.

Accreditation is the first and most important asset for a distance learning program. Accreditation is the gold standard for the validity of course credits. If a school has not been reviewed and approved for accreditation by a genuine educational authority, then the degree awarded by the school is usually worthless. Many of these sham schools actually send out course materials and give grades, but for nothing. The “work” is really a way to maintain the appearance of legitimacy. Knowing which boards of review or accreditation regulators are real and which are part of the scam is also important. Fakers realize that the word “accredited” alone lures some people into signing up. Seals of approval from non-existent accreditation agencies work as advertising gimmicks to give scams false integrity. To find out if an accreditation organization is authentic, check with the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.

Besides the all-important accreditation, examine distance learning Web sites for a list of faculty, staff, or administrators. A real distance learning institution should also have a physical address and not just a post office box. Reputable distance learning operations should have contacts for instructors and other essential personnel. Look over the list of subjects offered and carefully review the material included in the course. Beware of programs that aggressively market “life experience” degree programs. While many respectable colleges, universities, and distance learning programs have life experience credit courses, none award degrees for it.

Other gimmicks used by distance learning scams are the flattering testimonials made by alleged students and graduates who attest to the program’s quality and reputation. Testimonials, no matter how convincing, are not references. The happy faces accompanying the testimony are anonymous, generic, and probably belong to actors or models. A reference can be picked at random from a long list of current and former program participants, which scam artists are unlikely to have on hand. Independent references, or membership in the Better Business Bureau, should be mandatory for a distance learning course that teaches an old-fashioned trade like clock repair, furniture making, or some other non-academic course.

Artificial universities, academies, or institutes that supply counterfeit diplomas for a flat fee join up with an accomplice to perform the swindle. The other guilty party in this scheme is the student. A few gullible people may be fooled by a diploma ruse disguised behind a name that sounds like a famous or prestigious school, but most of the customers seeking an overnight degree know they are impostors.

Whether used for simple self-esteem, to help someone pass himself off as a professional of some sort, or just to embellish a job resume, the purpose of a costume diploma is to deceive someone else.

 

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