At first glance, distance learning and online education sound like the same thing. That is only because we now think that anything involving distance must include the internet. Distance education has been around far longer than the internet; it refers to any time the expert and the learner are not meeting face-to-face.
What is Distance Education?
Distance education can involve anything from an old-school mail order course to modern online learning portals. Of course, you would be hard pressed to actually find a mail order course these days for good reasons. The internet completely changed what is possible in distance education programs. It allows quicker turnaround and more robust interactions via email, instant messaging, recorded lectures, online forums and interactive learning pages.
Distance Learning vs. Attending Classes
In many ways, moving to the online world has made distance education more efficient than attending brick and mortar schools. The biggest difference is that, as a learner, everything fits your schedule. There's no need to rush through traffic on your way to an 8:30 a.m. lecture.
Online courses with streaming lectures only begin when you have settled yourself. If there is an interruption, you can hit the pause button and then pick up right where you left off once you're ready to begin again. You can even go back and watch a section over again. In a traditional learning model, the classroom instructor isn't likely to take a break for you or endlessly repeat themselves on demand.
Not all online courses are recorded; some will be presented live and give you a chance to raise a virtual hand, allowing you to emulate the intimate feel of being in the classroom and getting personal attention. Forums and chats also provide opportunities to ask questions or get different explanations from classmates or the professor. For instance, if a school question pops into your mind in the middle of the grocery store, you can post it to a forum or email the instructor from your smart phone. Of course, unannounced phone calls to a course instructor may not be a good idea.
Getting feedback on how you are doing can be easier with online learning. Online quizzes give you feedback right away, which means no waiting until the next lecture to get it back from the instructor.
Distance education can be a good alternative to attending school in person because of these online-specific tools. However, there are many personal reasons to choose distance learning programs, as well.
- The school is too far from family that needs you
- Traveling for school means giving up your job
- The time demands of a conventional program are impossible to meet
- The program you want to study isn't available at local institutions
What is distance learning? It can be the path to your future success. Online education helps to fit what you want to learn with how you are best able to learn.
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