Can Distance Learning be a Substitute for College

Distance learning can and does work, and I am living proof.

UNISA (the University of South Africa) is one of South Africa’s top universities. It

differs from the others. For the last 60 years the university has used distance learning as its primary method of delivery. This has been achieved with remarkable success.

Ten years ago I registered as a student of UNISA’s business school – the School of Business Leadership (SBL) – where I studied towards a Master of Business Leadership (MBL) – their version of the MBA.

My studies there proved to be a most fruitful and enjoyable adventure. I was assigned to a study group that worked together. Study material and text books were supplemented with bi-annual week long residential study schools. Lecturers and professors were available when needed.

Over the last ten years online content and discussion boards have become a major feature. The top international online journal libraries are available as part of the deal. The MBL has been ranked as one of the top three MBA programmes in South Africa.

Distance learning with a quality university is a viable option for higher education. It provides flexibility, allowing the student to study on a part time or full-time basis. Students work in their own time and space. The degrees can be flexible using a system of credits. The growth of the Internet and the advent of broadband facilitate on-line lectures, discussion boards and even real-time discussions.

Since graduating I have become involved in both on-line and campus based education. Each provides its own advantages and disadvantages. I also facilitate a course on emoderating (the role of the educator in the online environment) from time to time.

On-line distance education has become a huge growth industry. Many universities now offer on-line or distance education options. Many combine traditional lectures and tutorials with on-line work through discussion boards. Many do this to a very high standard offering high quality support to their online students.

Unfortunately some universities have entered this market without adequate preparation, expertise or experience and as a result do not offer the required level of support to students.

An important consideration to look for is quality. A top rated university is not likely to offer a sub-standard on-line option. Find out how long they have been involved in distance education. Experience counts. Look at rankings – you’ll probably get this through a Google search. Look at what is offered. Library facilities are essential. Not all universities offer distance library facilities. If they don’t, then you must have a viable alternative. Can you use the library facilities of a local university? Find out if your university of choice offers access to online journal libraries as part of the deal. Do some research. Make sure that the degree from the university is widely recognised.

Distance education can provide a qualification that is equal to anything offered elsewhere. Geographic considerations fall away. Distance education can suit anyone from a full-time student straight from school, to those that want or need to work throughout their education. It is also very suitable for the “older” student that wants to further his or her education. It provides a viable alternative to being on campus with a bunch of eighteen year old students.

Remember that a quality distance education will beat a low grade residential equivalent and vice versa, so choose carefully whichever option you wish to follow.