Distance learning is a course or program completed remotely from the school or university that offers the educational opportunity. E-learning, online learning, and distance education are other terms used for this practice.
Most distance learning now occurs online, which requires that a student simply have access to a computer and the Internet. This is a broad term that also describes coursework completed through the mail, however, as in the more traditional form of correspondence courses. Independent institutions, as well as traditional schools and universities, offer distance education. Some programs offer degrees, in addition to other educational certifications.
In addition to a computer and Internet access, a person enrolled in a distance education program might need computer software, such as an anti-virus, word processing, and spreadsheet programs. Each individual program can provide the specific technology requirements for its courses. Many programs charge tuition based on the number of courses, or credits, taken. By saving on commuting or relocation costs, this can be an economical alternative to attending school in person.
Distance learning is attractive for several reasons, including convenience, flexibility, and pace. It is convenient because students can study when and where they want. For those who work or have families, the flexibility to schedule classes around such obligations is important.
Other students like the ability to work at their own pace. For example, a student can complete assignments quickly, and may be able to work ahead on a subject that is easy for him or her. Likewise, he or she can spend additional time on assignments that are difficult. Distance learning can also provide the opportunity to attain educational goals that can result in a promotion, salary increase, or entry into a new career.
One disadvantage is the lack of social interaction. When students take courses through this method, they may miss out on classroom discussions and individualized instruction. Many courses use chat rooms and bulletin boards to mimic a more traditional type of interactive and social learning environment, however.
When choosing a distance education program, students should evaluate the course content and the institution's accreditation. They might also want to consider costs, course methods, and the amount of student-teacher communication. Most online courses incorporate email and online discussion opportunities. When weighing costs, individuals should consider tuition, fees, and books, in addition to the cost of a computer, Internet service, and any other equipment needed.
Students who succeed at this type of learning are generally very organized, self-motivated, and comfortable with a computer. Because courses don't always have specific deadlines for assignments, those who procrastinate might find it difficult to get work completed. Several organizations provide information and references for different programs, including the U.S. Distance Learning Association, the International Centre for Distance Learning, and the Distance Education Clearinghouse at the University of Wisconsin.