Updated August 2021
In the past, distance learning may have seemed like a lower-quality option compared to attending classes in person. However, as technology evolves, learning online has become easier and just as good as traditional learning.
Teachers and students should consider what distance learning is and how it works. That way, they can help themselves and others be successful.
Overview of Distance Learning
Whether you are a student, teacher, or parent, it’s important to know, what is distance learning? One distance learning definition states that it’s a way for teachers and students to interact online. They don’t meet in the same physical classroom, which can be great for all parties.
Teachers don’t have to spend all day at a school to work. Students can focus on more activities outside of school. Parents can keep an eye on their kids and save time on the commute to take their kids to a classroom in person.
Types of Distance Learning
The two main types of distance learning and education include synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous learning is similar to traditional learning because it happens live. The teacher and all of the students log on to a video conferencing platform at the same time.
Classes in this category follow a fixed-time schedule, and they may or may not involve video conferencing. Everyone in the class will meet at the same time, and that time usually won’t change throughout the semester.
Asynchronous classes are classes that don’t require people to meet at the same time. These classes may follow an open schedule, so students can log on and complete assignments at their own pace. However, they will still have deadlines to help stay on track.
Hybrid online distance learning combines the two systems. A class may need to meet at the same time for a brief discussion. But students will work on assignments and other tasks when they have time.
Pros and Cons of Distance Learning
When considering if e-learning is the right option, it’s important to look at the pros and cons of distance learning. The specific pros and cons will depend on the student, but some are more common than others.
Here are a few things to consider before teaching or joining an online class.
Distance learning is much more flexible than traditional learning. Students don’t have to show up to the same classroom, and they may not need to learn at the same time.
This is especially great for working adults who want to go back to school. But it can also help students who don’t have transportation to get to and from classes. Asynchronous classes also allow people to learn when they can be the most productive.
Online classes are also more accessible to people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. If someone can barely get out of bed one day, they can still attend their classes from home.
It’s also more accessible for people caring for disabled or chronically ill people. These people may find it hard to get away from home long enough to go to class. As long as the student has a computer, they can log on and learn.
With traditional learning, the teacher’s main option to convey information is live. However, teachers can add different lesson materials to help students learn in an online course.
A teacher can add videos, audio, and written text. That way, students can learn how they learn best, and they can review the materials at their own pace. Teachers can also reuse these materials each time they run the course, except for some courses where information changes, such as technology or business.
Not only can teachers offer different learning methods, but they can make the lessons engaging for students. Adding quizzes, discussion forums, and other tools allow students to participate more.
Plus, students can post on discussion boards more easily than speaking up in class. A live class may not allow for enough time to talk about the subject. The fastest students to speak up may always be the ones to talk in a traditional course. More students can share their thoughts in an online class, and they don’t have to be the first to raise their hand.
College tuition is expensive, and the costs are probably going to keep rising. But with distance learning, schools don’t have to pay for classrooms or utilities.
The school can then pass those savings on to students and families in the form of lower tuition. And students won’t have to pay as much in fees for on-campus resources that they don’t use.
Hard to Collaborate
While there are many benefits of distance learning programs, they do make it hard to collaborate with the teacher and other students. Group presentations and projects can be almost impossible to work on.
Now, there are tools like Sizle, which can help with document sharing. But science projects and other interactive work can still be hard to collaborate on over the internet. And if it’s an asynchronous class, the students may all have different schedules that don’t allow them to work together.
This next con may be a pro for some students, depending on the student’s personality. If someone is naturally independent, they may thrive in a distance learning class. They may even like it better than going in person.
However, some students need more help from the teacher. When a student can’t motivate themself to log on and study, they can quickly fall behind. Teachers can help these students, but it’s not as easy to do as in person.
Not Much Attention
Another reason students need to be independent is that it can be hard to get attention from the teacher. Some online classes may have more students than the equivalent course in person.
The teacher may need to spend more time grading assignments and posting new materials. An online teacher should be able to help students. However, they may not have as much time to help someone, and getting to a teacher’s office hours may not be possible.
Needs an Internet Connection
While many people have access to the internet, some people don’t. Even if someone has an internet connection, it may not be stable, and that can make attending live meetings difficult. They might also have other people in their house who need to use the internet.
If a student can’t get to a computer with the internet, they may miss deadlines. They might not be able to attend live classes. Then, they could fall behind when they would otherwise succeed. Of course, students may go to the library, but this negates the flexibility and accessibility that distance learning offers.
Has Other Expenses
Students and parents may be able to save money on tuition for online classes. However, they might also notice their utilities and internet bills increase with higher computer usage. The change may be small, but it can add up over a year or two.
If a student’s computer stops working, they may also have to spend money. Then, they can get someone to repair the computer, or they might need to buy a whole new device.
Another potential higher expense is water. Students can’t get water from the water fountain at school, so they’ll use the home’s water line. It’s important to consider all of the expenses that online learning involves.
How Do Distance Learning Programs Work?
How distance learning programs work can depend on the specific program. The way the teacher delivers the material and the course subject might dictate how the class goes.
Still, most distance learning classes will follow a similar structure. Before enrolling in an online class, think about the following things.
Teachers can use a lot of materials to teach online classes. They can use online textbooks that students can access with a unique access code. Physical textbooks are also an option for students who want to study without using a computer.
Online learning may also involve live or recorded video lessons, slideshows, and screen recordings. A teacher may also write out some notes to upload to the course platform for students to review.
The systems an online teacher uses can also vary. Some teachers may use a platform like Google Classroom to deliver information and connect with students. However, some colleges and universities may require students and teachers to use a particular program.
Whatever the system, that’s where students can find materials and lessons. It’s also where students will submit their assignments. Some distance learning programs let teachers give feedback within a student’s document, so the student can do better the next time.
How It Looks
Some teachers may choose a theme or topic for each week of class. Then, they will post materials for the students to review and study. Teachers may also run a live lecture once or more each week, depending on the schedule.
An online teacher might also create discussion topics for students to write about on the class discussion boards. The instructor will also post assignments with the information students need to complete the task.
Students can then complete those assignments and turn them in right within the class portal. If there’s a live class, students will need to attend, take notes, and participate in any discussions.
Why Is Distance Learning Important?
Distance learning is becoming more important as technology gets better. Many students and teachers may find online learning to be easier or more efficient.
Before writing off distance learning, consider why it matters. Online classes may not be right for someone now, but they could come in handy later.
The time commitment can be higher or lower than traditional classes. If a student has a lot of discipline and motivation, they can go through the lessons and assignments more quickly. They don’t have to wait for a teacher to move to the next concept like in a regular class.
In this way, some students may save a lot of time. While other students may need more time to get work done, it doesn’t have to take longer. Students can then go to work, take an extra class, or spend more time with their families.
Not only can students save time, but they can study when they have the time. Whether someone works full-time during the day or has to care for children in the evening, they can still study and finish school.
Plus, they don’t have to spend the same amount of time on each class. Maybe history comes easily to a student, so they breeze through that. But they need more time to grasp algebra concepts, so they can spend more time on math problems.
As mentioned, some students may need to work full-time to afford school. Or they may not be able to quit for various reasons. Either way, online distance learning is great for working students. They can find classes that work with their schedule.
And if the student is productive, they may be able to handle a full-time school schedule. That way, they won’t have to take as long to get their degree. If they’re going to school to get a better job, they can get that new position more quickly.
Many traditional degrees require students to move far from home. However, some students may not be able to relocate due to family obligations or a lack of money. With online learning, a student in a small town can “attend” a school in a big city.
Students can then choose the school with the best program or professors for them. Even if a student decides to attend a local school, they’re able to make that choice. And they won’t have to worry about a potentially long commute to get to and from class.
What to Look for in a Distance Education Program
When considering distance learning programs, it’s important to look at a few factors. Before settling on a school for the name or prestige, think about some of the more important things that will make or break the experience.
Here are a few things to consider to choose the best distance learning program.
One of the biggest factors to look at is the class schedule. Consider if the required classes have a set time to meet through video conferencing. If so, think about that schedule and if it fits with existing responsibilities.
Also consider any preferences between synchronous or asynchronous classes. Maybe synchronous classes work better for more difficult subjects, but they aren’t necessary for topics a student is already good at.
Make sure the school or program is accredited by a reputable organization. The accreditation could be local, regional, or national, but the program should have something. That way, the degree will look better when it comes time to apply to jobs or higher degrees.
Some online-only schools don’t have accreditation, so the degree may not add much to a resume. So before spending thousands of dollars on a program, make sure it’s worth it.
It’s also important to look at different distance learning systems that schools use. Consider how easy the platform is for a student or teacher and how easy it is to get technical help.
If a student has to mess with the technology, it can impede their learning. While some distance learning systems will have a learning curve, that curve should end at some point. Read reviews from current students and ask the school for a demo to make sure the platform is easy to use.
Tips to Create an Online Course
Teachers should not only understand the importance of distance learning but how to create an excellent online course. That way, students will have the best chance at success.
Consider the following tips to build the best possible distance learning class.
Introduce the Course
A teacher should create a video that introduces themselves and their course. Answer some basic questions about the class and cover some expectations regarding assignment deadlines and class attendance.
Provide Leadership Opportunities
When possible, let students lead discussions and give presentations. That way, the students can still gain leadership experience when learning online. The teacher can still participate and make sure the discussion doesn’t get too far from the topic.
When grading student assignments, try to provide detailed feedback. Consider what information might help students do better on their next assignments. And let students know how they can get even more feedback, such as during office hours.
While students should keep track of everything themselves, it can be hard. A good online teacher will also send reminders about upcoming meetings, assignments, and discussion boards. Then, students won’t have to do as much to stay on track.
Distance Learning Is Here to Stay
Distance learning is an excellent option for students, teachers, and parents. It offers more flexibility and can be entirely self-paced. While it does require a strong internet connection, students don’t have to commute to school or move to be close to their school.
Instead, they can keep their jobs and fulfill other obligations. Then, they can maintain a successful life while they go to school.