Distance learning has been taking over the traditional classroom education for years now. Why is it happening, and what are the pros and cons of this transition?
Distance Learning Versus E-Learning
These two concepts are definitely interconnected, but they are not the same. When you hear “distance learning” think location. When you hear “e-learning” think Internet connection.
In distance learning, students and teachers are physically separated, which is not necessarily the case in e-learning. In e-learning, students and teachers use electronic media (often the Internet), which is not a requirement in distance learning.
If you study with books and show up in college once a semester to take an exam, this is distance learning, but it is not e-learning. When you watch an online lecture in class, this is e-learning, but it is not distance learning. If you take an online course or join a webinar, this is both distance learning and e-learning.
In today’s world, these two concepts overlap so often that many scholars already use them interchangeably. For the purposes of this article, we will follow their lead and blend the two. We will focus on distance e-learning and webinars in particular.
Pros of Distance Learning
Here is why you should choose distance learning:
- Flexibility in time and space
- Long-term savings
- Higher educational value
Let’s go over them in detail one by one.
Flexibility in Time and Space
Most online courses are self-paced, which allows you to create your own timetable. Even webinars, which are a synchronous (in real-time) type of learning, can be watched later. This is convenient not only for free-spirited souls that do not want to be constrained by some arbitrary schedules. This is first of all an optimal (if not the only) solution for people with jobs, families and other adult responsibilities.
Distance learning has also been a lifeline for every ambitious person living in a rural area. Many US high school students got a chance to take more challenging AP classes specifically thanks to e-learning. Many foreigners can now study at top American universities without having to leave their home country. And what about those people, who can’t attend class due to illness? Distance learning has truly been a potent force in bringing equality to the world.
Employers use e-learning as a way to standardize knowledge and skills among employees, who live in different countries. Via the webinars, they can provide training, exert managerial control or organize a monthly meeting with hundreds of people at the same time. Distance learning has become indispensable in the age of globalization.
According to Best Colleges, 40 % of those entering an online program want to change their career. At the same time, they do not want to quit their current job to go to a traditional college (again). In order to avoid the opportunity as well as the financial loss, they opt for more flexible and relatively inexpensive distance learning. It allows them to test various career options without having to burn bridges.
When you study at home, you get rid of less obvious expenses such as parking, gas, cafes etc. These may seem inconsequential, but they do add up in the end. Eliminating such small charges will save you a fortune in the long-term.
Higher Educational Value
Research revealed that talented students fare much better in an online course than in a standard classroom. They are not forced to slow down so that others can keep up. They can do everything at their own usually faster pace.
Slower students, on the other hand, can take their time to understand the material. They can re-watch the lectures whenever they want or even re-take the course at a later date without losing the money. Their progress is saved, so, they do not have to redo everything from scratch if they decide to do the course at a later time.
Let’s take webinars as an example of e-learning. With them, it does not matter where you sit in the classroom: you can hear your teacher just as well as hundreds of your peers. It does not matter what eyesight you’ve got: teachers will usually share screen with presentations and all the supplemental materials.
It does not matter if you are shy or not: there is no need to raise your hand, as you can just leave an instant message to a presenter. All these advanced tools really help level the field for hundreds of students around the globe. They also allow teachers to save time on activities such as grading and focus more on their students.
Cons of Distance Learning
Despite all the amazing advantages, e-learning is not devoid of drawbacks. Here are some of them:
- Student isolation
- Danger of procrastination
- Lack of validity
Distance learning is often performed in isolation. This prevents students from forming lasting relationships with their peers as well as professors, which is detrimental to their mental health. This also often prevents them from quickly correcting their mistakes: many online teachers take quite some time to answer in forums. That is why webinars are a better type of e-learning: instant messages allow students to improve immediately.
Danger of Procrastination
You usually need much motivation to finish an online course or watch all webinars. Because e-learning is not obligatory, many tend to default on it. Many also tend to underestimate this type of learning, thinking that it is something easy. And when it’s not, they quit. If you want to persevere with your webinar or MOOC, you will need to find time as well as strong motivation for it. Otherwise, it won’t work.
Lack of Validity
E-learning may yield you a certificate, but it rarely provides a full-fledged degree. Many online universities are either not accredited or simply not recognized by employers. More than 60% of US students, who do e-learning full-time, are enrolled in for-profit colleges. These private schools are generally known for the bad quality of their education.
But you should not discard e-learning because of the few rotten apples. It’s not perfect, but very often it’s more practical and useful than your local college. Wouldn’t you rather learn from a person actually working in the field than an academic? Webinars attract experts as well as people yearning to become one. So, don’t miss your chance to become a professional without having to get out of bed.