Understanding off-campus learning (distance learning)

Have you ever heard of distance learning? Have you ever considered using it? Distance learning is new and has grown exponentially due to online education offerings.

Universities, graduate schools, community colleges, technical schools, and vocational schools are all offering distance education programs or courses. Schools have partnered with online, broadcasting, cable, and satellite companies to deliver education to the comfort of your home or office. Schools offer distance learning on variety of subjects such as computer science, health, business, and so on.

With distance learning, students are able to access education without having to physically be in a classroom on a campus. If you are deciding on whether or not you should enroll in distance learning program or class, understand that distance learning works best for those who:

  • have high reading and writing skills
  • can work well with others and technologies
  • can work alone
  • are motivate and self-confidence
  • are matured (emotionally and academically)
  • understand where to go when they need help. Your school may provide distance learning support/help.

Instructions, assignments, communication in distance learning

Instructions and assignments vary according to the type of course you are considering for distance learning. For example, if you are considering enrolling in an e-learning course, your assignments and instruction is likely to be mostly via web. You won’t have any face-to-face contact with your instructor or other students in the class. On the other hand, if your course involves a two-way video conferencing, you will be able to see and hear your instructor and other students.

The following shows some distance learning options:

  • Online courses – these are also referred to as internet-based courses or simply e-learning. Internet courses offer communication among the class members via computer/video conferencing, chat rooms, use of web sites, e-mail, message boards, and so on. A course instructor posts instructional material and assignments (with deadlines) on the course web site and he/she starts online discussions by posting a comment or question (and making the online discussion mandatory to encourage participation). Students enrolled in the course log on using a password and join the discussion at their convenience. To access the online course system, the student needs to have a computer with internet access and any appropriate software required for the course.
  • Prerecorded video courses – these courses are videotaped and mailed to the students. The videotape contains instructions on assignments and the lecture material. There may be a website specifically designed for the course to allow the student to submit their assignments, post comments, ask questions, etc.
  • interactive video courses – This is similar to video conferencing. Two-way interactive video courses take place simultaneously in two or more sites. Instructor provides the instruction material front of camera and this transmitted to other sites where students are watching. If a student wants to talk, the student presses a button, which makes the camera point to them and allows other sites (including of that of instructor) to watch and listen. Assignments are faxed/mailed.
  • Audio based courses - these courses involve two-way communication (as in audio or phone conferencing) or they involve one-way communication (as in radio broadcast).
  • Print based courses – for these courses, students receive course materials by mail at the start of the course. When completed, students return their assignments by mail. Instructors and students can communicate via email, phone, fax.

Now, you know the type of distance learning course options but why should anyone consider a distance learning course or degree program?

There are varieties of reasons that student choose distance learning. Here are some:

  • Accelerate degree completion
  • Complete courses that are not offered locally
  • Prepare for a second career
  • Gain personal enrichment and satisfaction
  • Job and other personal obligations make it difficult to attend on campus class.
  • Satisfy prerequisites
  • "Open notebook" tests/assignments. You have access to all the recourses out there to answer exam questions
Posted on 9/17/2006
by Raj Singh