Distance learning, which is an education model that allows students to attend courses either entirely online, or partially online, has been gaining attention in the past few months. Students and educators have had to adjust to this form of education in response to stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while there is evidence that distance learning can be just as effective and engaging as traditional in-person learning, you may be wondering what distance learning looks like and whether it’s right for you long-term. And it may not be. There are many advantages to distance learning, as well as inevitable drawbacks. This article will touch on three major characteristics of distance learning as they relate to the student experience: access, flexibility, and social interaction.
Pros: Distance learning can be a godsend for students who, for whatever reason cannot, or would prefer not to attend classes in person. Because distance learning programs use technology like, teleconferencing apps, video recordings of lectures, messaging apps, and online drop boxes, students are able to attend lectures and complete coursework from wherever they are — as long as they have a strong internet connection.
This is great for students who already have careers and families and would benefit from a program that doesn’t require them to be physically present. Students with disabilities that limit mobility may also prefer programs that require little to no travel.
Cons: Technology does sometimes break down. Apps experience bugs and internet connections go down occasionally. Nontraditional students in an older age group also may not find this kind of technology as user-friendly as their younger counterparts. And the reality is, that internet (and computer ownership) is still very much a luxury — not every student has consistent access to reliable, high speed internet or a PC of their own.
Students who are not as tech savvy or who rely on school Wi-Fi or computers may benefit more from on-campus courses.
Pros: Online courses often allow students to complete coursework on their own schedules. While some courses require attendance for livestreamed lectures, students can access and complete homework and quizzes on their own time. And some programs are completely asynchronous, meaning all work and lecture viewing is done at the student’s pace.
This is great for students who require more flexibility because of work and family obligations. Students who are disciplined and can complete work on their own also do well with programs like this.
Cons: Flexibility is not always a blessing and not every student handles this much autonomy well. Freshman-level students, with little understanding of expectations and students who are not accustomed to regulating their own schoolwork may fail in this scenario.
Pros: Technology has made it easier than ever to connect with peers and professors without ever seeing them face-to-face. Messaging apps and teleconferencing programs and online forums mean that asking a question or receiving feedback can happen almost instantly. And studies have showed that this kind of communication can actually increase engagement. It’s never been easier to get in touch.
Cons: Not everyone appreciates communicating using technology and there are students who prefer face-to-face interaction. Also, face-to-face interaction isn’t reliant on the Wi-fi and can still take place if an app is down. Miscommunication is also less likely to happen when you can hear the tone of a person’s voice and see their facial expressions — things missing from messaging.
A good fit for many, but maybe not all
Distance learning solves many problems when it comes to access, flexibility, and ease of communication, which makes it a great option for many students. Students who already lead busy lives or who need accommodation for a disability may find distance learning to be the better option.
But there are also still students who are better served by the traditional education experience. Students who may not be as into the tech scene or able to access the technology required to participate in distance learning may benefit from on-campus courses.
Before you commit to a distance learning program, it’s important to evaluate what it’s going to require of you and whether you can reasonably meet those requirements. When researching programs get in touch with department heads and current students and ask questions about the experience and where they see success and where they see pitfalls. The good news is you have options.