Distance learning covers a wide range of opportunities, from correspondence courses to virtual classrooms on the Internet, and the concept has been around for quite some time.
When the traditional classroom wasn’t available
While online education over the Internet is a relatively new development, the concept of distance learning is actually much older than most people realize. As far back as the mid-1800’s, some colleges were offering distance learning opportunities to students through correspondence courses.
This provided a way for teachers, lawyers, doctors and ministers on the western frontier in the United States to keep up with recent developments and pursue advanced degrees. At the end of the First World War, soldiers returning from the war were offered opportunities to pursue a variety of classes through correspondence courses and take classes via two-way radio.
The two-way radio was also used for areas that were sparsely populated, such as Alaska. In fact, in Alaska and Siberia, the two-way radio and delivery of educational materials were frequently used for elementary and high school classes.
This faded over time and was replaced by closed-circuit television, but with the birth of the Internet, distance learning really took off. For the first time, almost anyone could log on, download course materials and interact in real time with classmates and instructors while working from home. Today millions of people around the globe pursue degrees online.
Today’s Distance Learning is Sophisticated
The distance learning opportunities offered today are so varied that you can find a course for almost any interest you have. In addition to the traditional offerings for those looking for a traditional degree, there are courses that are specific hobbies, religious practices, and personal interests, and if you can handle it, this way of learning gives you a lot of freedom.
You can find universities and colleges where you can pursue:
- An associate degree online
- A Bachelor’s degree online
- A Master’s degree online
- An MBA online
Or you can take continuing education courses such as:
- Online computer courses
- Art courses online
- Communications courses
- Creative writing
Why Online Learning is so great
Distance learning has grown in popularity faster than any other type of learning system and for a very good reason – it’s so practical in today’s fast-paced world. Just about everyone can vouch for the fact that they have too much to do and not enough time to do it already, so returning to school seems impossible. But in today’s economy, an advanced degree or a better education can be invaluable. To save both the money of a bricks-and-mortar school and the time spent commuting every day to and from class just makes sense.
The majority of people enrolled in online colleges and universities are working adults returning to school who appreciate the advantage of attending night and weekend classes from home so that they can be with their families and still attend classes. At the same time, we see schools offering courses outside their regular curriculums which makes them also far better accessible educational institutions.
It’s also a great opportunity for those who have a particular career in mind but want to complete their degree before relocating. For instance, if your spouse has a good job and you want to get a degree in criminal investigations, but the nearest school is a 95-mile commute, an online degree makes sense for you. Simply sign up for an online degree program and get your degree in crime scene investigations.
Some advantages of Distance Learning
- You can take any class you want anywhere in the world; you aren’t limited by geography, so your curriculum is unlimited.
- You have no travel time or expense from commuting.
- Email makes scheduling time with your professor and contacting classmates simple and efficient.
- Working at your own pace is usually an option within some time frame.
- You can be at home with your family and still attend classes.
- You can be employed full-time and still work on your degree.
- An accredited online school offers the same level degree as a bricks-and-mortar college or university.
Facing the Challenges of Online Education
As with anything new, there is an adjustment period – and distance learning is no different. While it’s a real godsend for many people, others discover that they have to readjust their thinking if they want to take advantage of the opportunities available online.
When you’ve always attended classes where there is an instructor watching over you, it can be easy to forget that a virtual classroom is just as real, and you may have a tendency to slack off or treat the classroom as more of a chat room environment, treating it too informally. If you don’t take it seriously enough, you may discover that you aren’t getting enough out of it because you aren’t putting enough into it.
You must also pace yourself properly on independent assignments with distance learning. Can you keep track of your work and make sure your assignments are turned in on time without classmates to remind you and no study partners available? So when you plant to improve your competencies or want to return to the workforce, online learning is a great option to get you ahead.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
- You’ll need to be disciplined – it’s easy to put things off, and you don’t want to do that when you have a job and family obligations that could get in the way of your classroom work at the last minute.
- Remember to always be respectful to your instructor online – he or she is a professional.
- It can feel isolating to not have any “real” classmates, so contact a few others taking the class via email to share notes and open class discussions if possible.
Looking toward the future of distance learning
Virtual education over the Internet is becoming increasingly popular and has become accepted by the mainstream as a viable alternative to attending a traditional classroom environment.
One of the main complaints students have about online education – the isolation – is currently being addressed by many online universities that are developing new software and video conferencing solutions for class discussions and lecture environments that open up more interactive possibilities.
More professors and instructors also now make themselves available via instant messaging during schedule hours for live chat “open forums” with students, adding an intimate feel to the courses. As the instructors continue to respond to the students’ needs, distance education is destined to thrive.