What are the Benefits of Distance Learning?


If you are considering taking online courses, you might be wondering, “What are the benefits of distance learning?”

Distance learning allows you to complete coursework at your own pace, hold a job while taking classes, and avoid a commute to a physical classroom.

Before you enroll in a distance learning program, however, there are many factors to consider.  Let’s start off with a discussion of what distance learning is, and how it works.

What is Distance Learning?

Distance learning means that you learn remotely.  This means you are not required to be in a specific location, such as a classroom at a school or college, to take a course.

Years ago, correspondence courses were conducted by mail.

First, a student would sign up for a correspondence course by sending tuition and registration information.  Next, the school would send course information, including books and other educational materials.

Then, the student would work through the material, usually at his own pace.  Finally, the student would send back proof that he had learned the material.  Usually, that would mean some type of homework in the form of a writing assignment.

As you can imagine, these courses did not allow instant feedback from an instructor.  In fact, it could take weeks to send a letter and receive a reply!

Distance learning can include correspondence courses, but it is now far less common to see information mailed back and forth in paper form.

What are the Platforms for Distance Learning?

Today, distance learning has a wide umbrella, which covers various methods of instruction, such as:

  • correspondence courses by mail
  • online courses, on sites like Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, Treehouse, and MIT OpenCourseWare
  • online tutoring, using Skype, Slack, etc.
  • teleconferences by phone, Skype, Slack, etc.
  • video conferences by Skype, Slack, etc.
  • videos on YouTube, Vimeo, etc.
  • e-books (electronic books) on Amazon or on the author’s website

We often think about students at the high school, college, or graduate level involved in distance learning.  However, anyone can participate in distance learning, either as a supplement to in-person courses or as a way to learn while working.

These courses usually allow students to complete course work at their own pace.  There are often many other students taking the course simultaneously, so that they can work together to solve problems and learn from one another.

Another form of distance learning is using technology for one-on-one or small group tutoring and teaching in real-time.

Correspondence Courses

As mentioned before, you can take correspondence courses by mail, although this is far less common.  A few years back, I took some actuarial coursework online.  I did have to send in some written homework as proof that I had learned the material and done the work.  Although uncommon, you can still find correspondence courses to this day.

Online Courses

Online courses can be hosted in a number of different ways.

A course creator can host his course on a site like Udemy or Udacity.  These sites will market your course for the creator, but they take a percentage of earnings from the course.  This is a good option for someone who is not tech savvy, does not have his own website, or does not have an audience yet.

A course creator can also host a course on his own website.  In this scenario, a course creator gets to keep more revenue for himself.  However, this setup requires more technical skill than simply uploading to Udemy or a similar site.

For one thing, you need a way for students to pay you.  Setting up PayPal or another payment method should not be left to a novice!  You also need to make sure that the course materials are delivered to students in a timely manner.  Finally, you need to troubleshoot any problems yourself.

You can also host an online course in real-time by teaching via Skype calls.  This limits the number of students you can teach at once.  However, it might be the perfect way to maintain the aura of a small, personal classroom.

In any of these scenarios, an online course can refer students to virtual learning materials, including e-books, videos, and audio resources such as podcasts.

Coaching and Tutoring

Coaching and tutoring is usually done in real-time, using phone or video calls.  Video calls are better, so that the teacher and student can interact face-to-face.  Email is often used as a supplement to check in between calls, and to prepare for the next meeting.

What are the Benefits of Distance Learning?

There are many benefits to distance learning.  For one thing, you can learn from anywhere in the world.  This allows you to use distance learning while you are already working or studying in school.

Distance learning can be used to catch up if you are behind your peers, to move further along on your educational path, or to get ahead in your career.

In addition, distance learning allows you to work with people from all over the world.  These people are also motivated to learn and improve themselves.  You never know who you will meet in an online course!

Best of all, distance learning allows you to avoid the commute!  In addition to saving you time, this can save you money.  To learn more, check out my article on saving money by telecommuting.

Catch Up to Your Peers

If you never finished high school, you still have a chance to earn your GED!  There are in-person options available, but it is difficult to find time if you work a demanding job.

A better option is an online program where you can complete the requirements for your diploma online.  This allows you to work at your own pace.  You should plan on spending three months preparing for the exam.

The GED test is a national exam, so you will be studying for the same test no matter where you live.  However, different states may have their own requirements, so make sure to get the details for your state.

You might also be in the situation where you failed one or more classes in school this year.  In that case, you could be looking at being held back and graduating late.

Fortunately, there are also options to recover high school credits with online courses.  Again, requirements will vary by state and even by school.  However, you should check to see if you can take an online course over the summer to catch up to your peers and graduate on time.

To learn more, check out my article on taking online courses in high school.

Finish Your Education Faster

Even if you have no need to catch up to your peers or make up missed classes, you can still benefit from distance learning.

For one thing, if you are home schooled, you can take distance learning classes that your parents or tutor cannot teach you.  This might include AP, IB, or other advanced courses that require specialized knowledge to teach.  You can also get to know other students, whether home schooled or not, who are taking the courses with you.

Another benefit, available to any high school student, is the ability to earn college credit through distance learning courses.  You will need to make sure the course is accredited by the colleges of your choice.  At the very least, you should be able to earn high school credit for taking the course.

Finally, if you are already in college, you can take distance learning courses to complete your college degree faster, in 5 to 7 semesters, instead of the traditional 8 semesters.

This might involve taking courses during summer and winter breaks from traditional classes.  However, the payoff is that you pay less tuition and start earning much sooner – possibly a year sooner!

Get Ahead in Your Career

Even if you have already completed your “traditional” education and are already working, you can still benefit from distance learning.

First of all, you can learn while you earn, or take classes at night and on weekends while keeping your job.  It might be slower to earn a degree this way.  However, you can stay in the job market, which prevents skills from getting rusty.

Another benefit of distance learning is that you can advance your career.  If your company needs people who are up to date on the latest technologies (programming languages, etc.), then you can take courses to stay on top of things.

Distance learning can help you to stay current on changes in regulations and laws, accounting and tax practices, and many other areas relevant to business.

As an added benefit, taking distance learning courses can increase your earnings potential at your job or in the market.  If your skill set is current and broad, then you can expect to earn more from an employer or client.

This also makes it easier for you to avoid unemployment by changing jobs or industries as technology causes massive shifts in our society.

Meet Interesting People

Another benefit of distance learning is that you can meet and interact with interesting people.  Sometimes, you learn quite a bit by exchanging ideas with other via online forums and discussions on course topics.

You will certainly encounter people with interesting viewpoints who will make you think differently.  You might even meet a friend, coworker, employee, boss, or business partner in one of your online courses!

Further Benefits

As if the benefits mentioned above weren’t enough, there are more reasons to take distance learning courses!

In many of these courses, you can work at your own pace.  If you are between jobs or taking a sabbatical, you can work through a course as fast as possible.  If something happens in the middle of a course (family emergency, health issue, etc.), then you can pause, and later pick back up where you left off.

Perhaps the best benefit of all is the fact that you can avoid a dreadful commute!  When you participate in distance learning, you don’t need to walk, bike, drive, or take public transportation to get to a classroom.  You don’t need to worry about being late on the day of a test, or missing important notes in a missed lecture.

What are the Drawbacks of Distance Learning?

Of course, along with the benefits, there are drawbacks to distance learning.

For one thing, this path can be much more solitary than in-person classes.  Some courses have little to no opportunity to interact with classmates or the instructor.  Avoiding a commute means that you won’t run into people you know during the day.

Also, it may be harder to contact the instructor, or to get the same quality of attention as you would in a smaller, more personal classroom setting.  After all, some distance learning courses cater to hundreds or thousands of students!

Finally, whether it is fair or not, some employers look down on distance learning courses.  Perhaps they think that you don’t learn as much in an online classroom as in a real classroom.  Then again, maybe they don’t want to diminish the value of their own expensive brick-and-mortar degrees and classes.

Whatever the reason, keep in mind that some people will turn up their noses at your distance learning efforts!

How Can I tell if a Distance Learning Program is accredited?

If you are thinking of enrolling in classes at an online college, check to see whether the college has accreditation from an accrediting agency.

You will also need to check to make sure that the accrediting agency is accredited.  This means that the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or Department of Education (DoE) has accredited the accrediting agency, allowing them to accredit colleges.

This may sound confusing, so let’s look at a simpler analogy.  A city or town hall hires building inspectors, wiring inspectors, and plumbing inspectors, all of whom are licensed professionals.

These inspectors can then vouch for the safety and habitability of construction, such as homes and business, since they know what to look for.

In this analogy:

  • the city hall is the Department of Education
  • the inspectors are the accrediting agencies
  • the homes and businesses are the colleges seeking accreditation

If you are taking online courses through a site like Udemy, Udacity, or others, then it is a good idea to check on the credentials of the instructor.  You should also read reviews of the course before enrolling.

How do MOOCs Fit in to Distance Learning?

A MOOC (massively open online course) is a type of online course that encourages widespread participation.  These courses may have hundreds, thousands, or millions of participants from all over the world.

Generally, everyone participating will have access to the same learning materials.  This can include documents, audio and video files, and other learning resources.

There may also be an interactive component, where course participants work together to solve a problem or critique each other’s work.

These courses are mostly self-paced, and sometimes come as part of a longer sequence of courses, as in a micro-degree program.

How to Pay for Distance Learning

There are many ways to pay for distance learning.  You may qualify for some or all of these, depending on your circumstances.

GI Bill

If you served in the military, the GI Bill may be able to help you pay for some of the expenses incurred in taking courses or earning a degree.  The GI Bill can pay expenses for tuition and living expenses while you finish high school, college, or vocational school.

The GI Bill can also provide low-interest mortgages to buy a home, or loans to start a business.  Contact your local VA (Veterans’ Affairs) agent to learn more about these benefits.

Grants

Some educational grants are funded by the U.S. government, and managed by the DoE.  To qualify for a grant, you need to fill out and submit the forms for a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

To qualify, you need to have a GED or high school diploma.  You also need to register with Selective Service, if you are a male between 18 and 25 years of age.  You also need a valid Social Security number, and you must not be in default on any other federal student loans.

Other grant programs are funded and managed by private individuals, companies or foundations.  Be creative in your search for private grants!  For example, you might be able to receive a grant as a member of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

Scholarships

Scholarships are awards for academic, athletic, or other achievement, intended to pay part or all of a student’s educational expenses.  These expenses include tuition, room and board, books, and other supplies.

You can earn a scholarship from your high school or college if you have exceptional academic achievement.  You might also earn a scholarship for high performance and promise in sports, the arts, and particular fields of study.

In addition to scholarships from high schools and colleges, you can sometimes earn a scholarship from a private individual, company or foundation.

To earn a scholarship, there will often be a minimum grade point average or SAT/ACT score requirement.  This is true regardless of whether the scholarship is for academic, athletic, or other excellence.

Loans

If you have exhausted other options, you can take out student loans, either through the U.S. government or private lenders.  Keep in mind that there are limits to the amount you can borrow from the government, so plan ahead before you start classes!

Also, make sure that you completely understand the consequences of taking out student loans.  Use an online calculator to determine the amount you will pay each month.  This will depend on the amount of loans you take out, the interest rate you pay, and the repayment period.

How to Succeed in Distance Learning

If you have decided to pursue distance learning, there are several ways to ensure your success.  To learn more, check out my article about how to succeed in online courses.

Conclusion

I hope that this article helped to bring to light the numerous benefits of distance learning.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

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