Distance learning continues to evolve and has become a method of completing course work for more and more students, but it is still not for everyone. There are many aspects of this type of class that differ from the traditional classroom setting. Anyone who is considering online or paper based correspondence courses should carefully consider their own personal work style and needs as well as the course requirements before registering.
Online courses require a computer with an internet connection and will often require at least Microsoft Word. If lacking these resources at home, a student could attempt to use the local library’s computers, but this will eliminate much of the flexibility and convenience of taking the course. Additionally, if special software is required, it cannot be installed on library computers. Students who do not have an internet connection at home should reconsider plans to take an online course.
In distance education, the learning environment is one’s home. Carefully consider how uninterrupted study time can be accomplished before signing up. If there is not a quiet place to study, a place outside the home will likely be needed, minimizing flexibility and convenience. Students who consistently struggle to find a place to study will have difficulty being successful in online courses, possibly more so than in the traditional classroom.
Traditional classrooms tend to favor auditory learners in the classroom. They provide some support for visual learners through board writing, handouts and reading assignments. Tactile learning is often overlooked. Students who have been successful in traditional classrooms have developed strength in either auditory or visual capabilities. Distance education, however, will focus primarily, if not exclusively, on visual learning. Students who have difficulty with written instructions and reading assignments, but understand after oral explanations and class discussions will tend to struggle in distance courses.
Familiarity with material
Studying simple concepts or well known material is generally easier than trying to learn difficult concepts or completely unknown material. Students should assess their ability to learn new material independently and the topic being covered in the course. If the subject matter is new, extra reading and research may be required and, even then, personal analysis skills will come into play. Students who like to or think they will need to ask lots of questions might need to shy away from distance learning.
Students taking distance learning course often report feeling isolated. While online courses generally have discussion boards for communicating with other students, students have the flexibility of accessing these boards on completely different schedules. Not only does this eliminate most of the social aspect of attending a traditional class, it makes it difficult for students to get help from classmates and teachers in any kind of timely fashion. Group study sessions and comparing notes is much less likely to happen in this setting and there is no specific class time when everybody will be there. Students who depend on the support and structure of knowing they can ask when they get to class or only go to class to be around people, will find something substantially lacking in distance education.
The greatest benefit of distance learning courses is also their greatest downfall. Because these classes are highly flexible, they do not demand attention at a specific time in the schedule. Every other conceivable event in a person’s life can easily take priority over an online course in the short run. Students who successfully complete online classes must find a way to organize their life to include an appointment to study and then have the discipline to keep that appointment to meet their books. Time management can quickly become an issue because learning independently is more time consuming than having a topic explained. Despite all the flexibility, distance learning courses still have deadlines for assignments and tests. Students who get by with procrastination and all nighters in traditional courses may suffer when faced with self-teaching and computer enforced deadlines.
Before taking an online class, students should assess their reason for taking the course and if it is enough to get them through the course. This purpose may be the only motivation to complete the course. Personal accountability often lacks the force of teacher reminders and having to admit in person that an assignment is not complete. Independent learning does not include the competitive environment that drives many to succeed. At the end of the day, if a job well done and progress toward a goal is not enough to keep a student moving forward, they will be at risk for slacking off or quitting.
Distance learning is a unique form of education. It offers many who are unable to attend a traditional school setting the opportunity to further their education. Others integrate it into their traditional education as a way to get around scheduling conflicts or expedite progress. But online classes have specific limitations that make them a challenge for many students who are otherwise successful learners. It may be beneficial for a student to take a short online survey to get an overall feel for their chances of success, but it is still important to look at every aspect before deciding if distance learning is really the right choice.