One of the greatest appeals of the distance learning delivery method in education is also, potentially, one of its biggest downfalls. Choosing to pursue a course or even an entire educational degree program via the distance learning route opens up educational opportunities by giving the student the freedom to work at his own pace, in any location where he can find an Internet connection and according to the demands imposed on him by the other responsibilities of his life. In short, distance learning provides freedom.
With this freedom comes a large measure of responsibility. Traditional brick and mortar classrooms provide structure, both for the student and for the coursework. A course instructor is in place at a specific time on specific days throughout the duration of the course. Lectures are presented and, as long as the student shows up when expected, the course information will be conveyed according to schedule. Motivation is built into the traditional classroom structure.
Distance learning shifts the burden of motivation from the structure of the classroom squarely onto the shoulders of the the student. The student must take the initiative to login to the weekly course lecture forum. The student must follow the syllabus and prepare for assignments, quizzes and exams without the direct guidance of the course instructor. Any student who lacks the self-discipline and self-motivation to do this on a regular basis right from the start of the course is likely to fall through the cracks of the distance learning system.
Distance learning instructors are well aware of the active, engaged students in their courses who make regular contributions to the discussion forums, who turn in their assignments in a timely fashion and who are always involved in the online activities of the course. Students who simply lurk in the background, rarely participate in discussion forums and fail to turn in assignments or take exams according to schedule are often viewed as non-participants or dropouts. It is unlikely an instructor will make more than a perfunctory effort to engage a student who shows no level of self-motivation on their own.
Self-motivation is the vital key to success in the distance learning arena. Without it, there is nothing to drive the student on to achieve his goals, either in terms of an individual course or in terms of focusing on a long term goal of earning a certificate or degree.