The current technological arena has taken learning to greater heights. Several institutions have incorporated distance learning in their programmes as it has proved to be fruitful. This has made it one of the common learning systems nowadays among various institutions. Before looking into the advantages and disadvantages of this learning system, let us first get its clear meaning.
Definition of Distance Learning
Distance learning is a system of learning where the physical presence of the student is not considered. The main aim of this system of learning is to deliver education to the required parties without the physical presence of the parties.
In this learning system, both the trainer (the source of information or the teacher) and the trainee (recipient of the information or the student) are far apart in terms of distance and time. It can also be described as a learning process that creates quality and equal learning opportunities to students outside the classroom environment. If in any case distance learning requires a physical presence, the resulting system is considered as a hybrid (blended) system.
Distance learning takes place in several forms. The most common ones include: the internet conducted systems; correspondence through mails, both regular and irregular; the CD-ROM, where the course content is stored in the CD for the student; the broadcast system or the telecourse where the course contents are delivered through TVs and Radios; the mobile learning system in which the course contents are stored in a wireless system; and the integration of live-in-group learning with a distance curriculum among others.
The Pros of Distance Learning
In the critical analysis of distance learning, several benefits are identified. The most common benefits that are associated with this learning system include: increase in flexibility; cost reduction; commuting is not necessary; there is increased accessibility and so on.
- Cost Reduction (financial benefits) – when compared to physical programmes, online courses are generally cheap. In addition, the expenses involved in distance learning cannot be compared to the other learning systems. For instance, there are no transportation expenses, no housing charges, meals charges and other charges that are imposed on the physical students. Also, the student can continue with his/her duties and at the same time continues with the learning process.
- Flexibility – with this learning system, students can continue with the course work at any place as long as the course materials are available e.g. the computers, the internet connection, the CDs among others. This makes it possible for learners to learn at the most convenient place. For those with irregular work schedule, this system comes in with great flexibility. The learner chooses to learn when and where is appropriate. The issue of time constraints or the geographical barriers is completely done away with.
- Increased accessibility – with this system, there is no worry about the access into schools or classrooms. It has therefore made it possible for students with mobility problems to access the courses at the comforts of their rooms. Distance learning has also made it possible for students to have a wide variety of institutions which they can choose from. Online institutions that provide specialized knowledge in various fields have been made accessible through this system. It therefore matters not whether one comes from a community with or without colleges as the online opportunity is available to everyone.
- More access to experts and materials – here, the learners have increased access to experts all around the globe. The learners can also access various materials from several sources including the online databases and the online materials. The institutions and the trainers (experts) in this system get proper marketability. Since these institutions must be advertised online, many students get informed about them and the most likely result is that many students attend them.
- Interactive teamwork – in this system, students are able to correspond with other students from different locations. Students are also able to get information from various experts from around the world. The result in this case is an improvement in the quality of education.
- Increase in student–teacher relation. The introduction of emails and live chats in the internet makes it easier for the teacher-student relation to improve. The student is able to communicate with the teacher one-on-one which results in better experience on the side of the student.
- Reduction in inconveniences – there are numerous inconveniences that arise in the normal physical learning process. Amongst them are: collection of assignments, submission of home-works, exams, assessment tests, attending classes at required times, etc. The online learning system has eliminated all these inconveniencies.
- In terms of quality and nature of the examinations, online institutions are miles away. Instead of the physical appearance of the trainer or the invigilator during the course of the exam, various online institutions use proctors to monitor the process of the examination.
- Physical movement from one place to another, especially of different social lifestyle, requires that one readjusts the lifestyle in order to fit in the new environment. This is very common with classroom learning. Distance learning comes along with a pool of social benefits. One does not need to leave his/her community, lifestyle or culture. On the other hand, distance learning has some problems associated with it. Let us look deep into these problems.
Cons of Distance Learning
- Hidden costs – although distance learning comes with reduced costs, there are some hidden costs that may be overlooked. For such learning, the equipment and the technology must be paid for. This calls for careful planning. The cost of setting up a computer system with internet connection, the cost of installing live video communication equipment, the cost of ordering the materials and the shipping charges, all contribute to the overall under-looked costs.
- Poor Social interactions – this system of learning lacks the social interaction that is linked with the classroom. In interactions in the chat rooms, the emails and discussion boards cannot be compared to the classroom interaction. This learning system is not ideal for students who need individual attention of the teachers. This makes its format non ideal for all students. Those with motivation and procrastination problems may find it quite un-ideal.As much as the online learning is gaining popularity, some of the employers do not recognize it. Some still do not believe in distance learning as they assume that the online degrees do not prepare an individual well enough to be resourceful in the job market.
- Adaptability to new technology – online learning requires that one is not left behind with technology. It requires that one becomes more comfortable with computers and with online programs before he/she can enjoy the online learning.
- Limited Courses – Not all courses can be offered online. Some courses need extensive practical work that needs physical guidance of the trainer. Such courses can not be offered online. Engineering courses and nursing courses cannot be offered entirely online.
Even though disadvantages of distance learning exist, its benefits are beyond compare. This system of learning has indeed taken learning to greater heights. The dissemination of information is highly encouraged by this system as majority can now access information from various fields. Learning has been made easy at less cost as the inconveniencies in open classrooms have been completely eliminated. With this system, students can now carry on with their studies and at the same time do some other things like part-time jobs. The greatest of all is the convenience of the online learning. Worries about when and where to study no longer exist as students always learn at the comfort of their rooms.
It is a piece of advice to the organizations that still do not recognize the online learning. The world is changing at a terrible speed and nobody should be left behind. Distance learning should be encouraged so that its benefits are enjoyed by all.