Here in Australia you can access distance learning for all levels of education from Primary (elementary) school, all the way through to University (college) tertiary Masters Degrees.
My partner and I have personally accessed distance learning at the University (college) level. I obtained a three year Advanced Diploma and he obtained his Masters in Environmental Science. Two different Universities offered these programs but the process was remarkably similar. If fact, The University of New England (UNE) in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia (where I obtained my qualification) is credited with developing one of the most efficient and effective models for distance education in the world and this model has been taken and used by other tertiary institutions across the globe.
My experience of this model of learning was very positive and I highly recommend it to you if you have a mature attitude towards learning and are prepared to take responsibility for your own success. This is not a hand holding model of eduction, you are provided with absolutely everything you need, and more, to be successful but in the end it is your own organisational skills, motivation and commitment that will see you successfully complete the course. This applies of course to all methods of study but because you are not required to attend lectures or tutorial classes in another location it is quite easy to let “life” get in the way and fall behind.
There is a regular application process involved the same as if you were attending the educational institution in person.
There are fees to be paid, identification documentation to be completed and all the paperwork that goes along with becoming part of a new school or University.
There is the time spent waiting and wondering if you have been successful in your application, although I’m sure that this model of offering educational programs expands the number of places available.
There are limits to how many places can be offered, so it’s very exciting when that package of materials arrives in the post and you know that you are on your way!
The very first thing that it is important to note is that almost all Tertiary level Distance Educational courses have an attendance component. In the case of my studies and that of my husband, we were required to attend lectures and tutorial classes two times per year at the University Campus. These are known as residential schools and can last from as little as three or four days or can sometimes be as long as two weeks and are usually held during the break between semesters.
I travelled more than 8 hours by car to attend my residential schools, I was given very good accommodation on campus for a nominal fee that included breakfast and dinner each night. I had access to all student services while I was at the school and most importantly I was able to develop relationships with lecturers, tutors and some of my fellow students. It was a wonderful experience and gave me a real taste of what University life is all about.
My nephew who has just turned 15 is accessing another distance learning option to complete his high school qualifications as he has suffered terrible bullying during his high school years and can no longer attend his regular school. He has received his coursework for the school term, has a program to follow and on-line forum and discussion boards he can contribute to and receive support from, as he works through the materials. He is very excited about this as he loves to learn and we hope that this will provide him with a viable option to complete his high school education to the Certificate level.
As technology continues to improve, I can see that distance education and learning options may become more viable, more sophisticated and more mainstream as they become more widely known and accepted in the community.
They provide people who may not have considered University or college an option available to them because of their age, their location or their commitments to work and family. I was 34 years old, a single parent of two pre-teen boys and working full time when I applied and was accepted, via distance education, into University at UNE here in Australia. It was an experience I would not change in any way. It was challenging and there were times I doubted my ability to go the distance but in the end I rose to the challenge and remember those years with great fondness.
If you are in a situation where distance learning is available to you and you feel that it would fit into your lifestyle and commitments then I can heartily recommend it to you. Do your research on the institution offering the course, check their accreditation and make sure that the qualification you receive at the end of the course is a valid and recognised qualification. If it all checks out take advantage of the wonderful opportunity you have to continue to learn and to grow while maintaining your commitments to yourself and others in your life.