Distance education, also called distance learning, is the education of students who may not always be physically present at a school. Traditionally, this usually involved correspondence courses wherein the student corresponded with the school via mail. Today, it involves online education.
Distance learning, also called e-learning, and online learning, is a form of education in which the main elements include physical separation of teachers and students during instruction and the use of various technologies to facilitate student-teacher and student-student communication.
Distance education is different from the traditional education. Distance education is that educational information and instruction taught to learners who are physically distant from the source of that information and instruction. Distance education, also called distance learning, provides learning chances to people who could not afford time or money for traditional classes or who lived in remote areas far from schools. Because of the expansion of the Internet in recent years, the Internet has become the most important tool for delivering distance education.
Distance learning occurs when there is a separation between the teacher and the student, usually due to geographical or time concerns that prevent the student from attending an on-campus course. Often, electronic means are used to bridge this gap and distribute educational material though distance learning programs using printed and mailed materials have existed for well over a hundred years. These programs have usually been specially designed to help best meet the needs and requirements that arise when learning is taking place outside of a traditional classroom setting. The majority of distance education today takes place using the Internet, now readily accessible for the vast majority of students whether in their own homes or at facilities such as local libraries. These electronic means are used to distribute the learning material, keep students in touch with teachers, and provide access to communication between students.
THE ADVANTAGES OF DISTANCE EDUCATION
1. You can pursue a job along with studies: A major chunk of students who actually opt for distance education are those who don't want to give up their jobs but want a higher education, too. Distance education comes as a blessing for such students. You can study on the weekends, when you're back from work or even in the middle of the night. You get to learn while you earn.
2. You can save money: For any given program, the fee of a distance education degree (online or otherwise) may be much more affordable than the fee of a regular on-campus degree. Students who are looking for economically viable options can go for a distance learning program.
3. You save time: There's no time wasted in going to and from college, no time wasted waiting for a bus or train. In a distance learning program, your classroom is right in your bedroom - the study material on your desk or the e-material on your computer. Students who don't have enough time on their hands can turn to distance education as an option and pursue it from the comfort of their homes.
4. You can learn at your own pace: the prospect of going back to classroom education can be intimidating for many of us. Asking a question or revealing that you are unable to grasp a concept in class can e quite embarrassing for many students. Distance education comes to your rescue here.
If you are self-disciplined and self-motivated, the best benefit of distance education is that you can learn at your own pace. It's a known fact that different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. In a classroom, when everyone is being taught together, it is often difficult to have every student on the same page. Some students are too shy to raise their doubts in class. This is where distance education has an advantage over a regular campus program. Since you are given all course work beforehand, you can study as much or as little as you want every day, as long as you complete your study material within the stipulated time. If you've doubts or queries, there are discussion forums, chat facilities with faculty and complete support from the distance education provider.
5. You can study whenever, wherever: Except in scenarios where you have to attend an online tutorial at a given time or a lecture through videoconferencing, you can pretty much study whenever you want to, wherever you choose to. You need not be stuck in a classroom, but can go study in your garden, on your living room couch or in the comfort of your own bed. Irrespective of whether you're a morning lark or a night owl, you can choose an optimum time to study whenever you're at your productive best.
6. Gaining recognition among employers: Distance education over the years has finally found some acceptance and recognition among employers, which is an encouraging sign. As long as the distance learning program is accredited, you need not be worried.
THE DISADVANTAGE OF DISTANCE EDUCATION
1. No Physical Interaction: Educators are both role models and knowledge givers for students in the conservative way of education. When the physical interaction between teachers and students is missing, then students tend to lose personal interaction with their educators and thereby the mental buildup of students may get hampered. Most of the students prefer to learn when their educators are physically present in the classroom. So, for such students distance learning would not be beneficial indeed.
2. Less motivational: In distance learning, students are not required to attain classroom in person. They are isolated and hence they don’t get same sort of interaction with other fellow colleagues in the course. Besides, the educators will also not be able to interact with the student directly; therefore they can’t motivate the students as they do in classroom. In traditional way of learning, the students get the opportunity to thrive in an environment which gives them a challenge to perform in a peer group. In distance mode of learning, all these motivational factors are not present and can be unfavorable for many students.
3. Distance Learning Don’t Help In Developing Oral Skills And Social Interactions: Remember most of the distance learning courses don’t facilitate oral communication, unless the program is synchronous learning event, where the students are asked to participate by using some communication techniques. Today, most of the distance learning courses use asynchronous method of learning and don’t facilitate such interactions.
4. Difficult to Choose a Quality Educational Program: When it comes to select the best distance learning program, it really becomes difficulty for students to determine the best course out of so many programs. They find it complicated to select the best course which will offer them maximum benefits because they are unaware about the recognized quality guaranteed online courses.
5. Employer’s Reluctance to Accept Distance Mode of Training: It has already been determined that most of the employers hesitate to accept the concept of distance mode of learning and they prefer hiring the employees who have completed their degrees through traditional mode of education.
6. Important To Have Good Time Management Skills: Students can only reap maximum benefits from distance learning if they have better time management skills because in this mode of learning the students should have self-guided skills in their learning approach.
7. Technical Difficulties: Another difficulty that distance learners will encounter with this mode of education is the requirement of sound technical skills; this includes good typing skills to excel in distance learning setup. Distance learning also includes some hidden cost, like maintenance and purchasing of computer and other equipments to succeed in the learning process.
So, it will not be exaggerated to say that along with several benefits and flexibility, distance learning also has several disadvantages and cons associated. Most of the distance learning courses are either program-dependent or person-dependent. So, to make future distance learning more efficient and widespread, it is important to minimize and avoid all these aforementioned factors.
DISTANCE EDUCATION AND UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS’ PERFORMANCE
The flexible and interactive nature of online learning makes it very effective in career progression, increasing the employability of several students and making faculty members better qualified to work in the digital age. Some may even argue that it is better than classroom-based learning.
Several hindrances can cause one’s learning to falter during online education. Online education is generally not very easy to cope with because of factors like poor internet connectivity, lack of data for study. The resultant effect is seen in difficulties undergraduate students faced in choosing undergraduate research project topics and also there will be poor performance in other departmental courses. Some global students do not even have access to learning tools such as a stable internet connection or a digital device to keep up with their academic courses. This has become somewhat of a challenge to most governments. Another major disadvantage can be to students who belong to a joint family or new parents with small children who must look after their household as well. Studies also showed that distance learning participants often lack the motivation to focus on studies and complete their work.
In conclusion, distance learning has both its negative and positive aspects, which must be taken into account when developing courses aimed at distance learning. It is more suitable for part-time students, for lecturers who need to improve their qualifications, as well as for people who have health restrictions. For full-time students, distance learning courses should be supplemented with lectures and seminars, where students should be given the opportunity to have live communication with both members of teaching staffs and their group mates.