Distance learning can provide an education that is convenient and lower in cost than attending college, but can lack in the social connections and life experiences that going to college can provide. Students can meet their best friends, life mates, and future business partners in college. Students can discover a love of travel, music, cooking or sports by participating in collegiate extracurricular activities. Distance learning eliminates some of these opportunities, and can make a student feel isolated.
That said, distance learning may be the only or best option for working students, physically challenged students, students with children, and students interested in a subject not offered at their available colleges. In these cases and more, distance learning can effectively substitute for a college education. With internet resources such as web conferencing, search engines, streaming media, and so on, distance learning is approaching a virtual classroom environment. Some colleges even use computer generated avatars for students to use to interact in a video-game-like online classroom environment.
In terms of education, the biggest difference between distance learning and attending college is that there is no class to attend; most online classes, or other distance learning classes, are self-paced to some extent. If a student is not motivated and self-directed, the student may have trouble completing assignments on time.
Other issues with distance learning include computer skills training, completion of degree, and the perceived worth of the degree.
If the distance learning course takes place online (rather than as mailed media or book courses), then the student must have some proficiency using a computer, the internet, and related peripherals. If the student has difficulty using a computer or navigating the internet, this will make taking classes online even harder.
Some degrees cannot be completed entirely using distance learning; classroom or lab time may be required for certain subjects. This may make it difficult for some students to complete their degrees.
The perception of distance learning is still that it is “not as good” as a college education. A distance learning degree is not necessarily perceived as a “real” degree by society or employers. Students can help avoid some of this stigma by seeking out an accredited online university, or taking distance learning classes from a reputable college.
Overall, if necessary, a good distance learning course of classes can substitute for a college education. What distance learning cannot do is substitute for the college experience.