During the past decade there has been a substantial increase in the number of students participating in distance learning (DL), also known as online learning (OL), programs offered by universities globally. The popularity of learning in this type of environment can be attributed to the fast-paced evolution of information technology and social media which shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. With the variety of communication and collaboration avenues available to educational institutions, universities are better equipped with the necessary tools required for instructors and students to better connect with one another in a virtual setting.
A number of virtual communication tools are available to enhance online learning and create a learning environment similar to attending a classroom setting; these include viewing prerecorded lectures, attending virtual classrooms with the use of avatars, using chat rooms, posting on discussion boards, and watching live video communications. This type of learning environment can broaden students’ perspective by having them collaborate in a venue comprising individuals who are located worldwide.
Before potential students consider participating in a distance learning program, it is essential for them to have a basic foundation of computer skills such as sending and receiving emails and creating text documents/presentations, as well as some experience in searching the web for data which will be used for research purposes because assignments typically require references to be provided. If a classroom student considers making the transition to a DL student, he or she must also understand the importance of time management. A typical DL class will require students to fulfill weekly discussion assignments, provide feedback on a minimum of assignments provided by their virtual classmates and complete a weekly written assignment. This is all in addition to the online research or readings that will also be due each week. Maintaining this pace can be challenging, particularly if a student is attending a program full-time and required to juggle a number of classes.
Despite these requirements, the convenience of choosing a distance learning program can be of great benefit for busy individuals: students who also have full-time jobs, full-time mothers, and those simply wishing to reside near their families while attending college. Due to the increased demands in people’s lives, many top universities are beginning to deviate from their traditional teaching methodologies and are starting to embrace distance learning and online education by offering certificate programs, degree programs, and advanced degree options online. Many universities will also require the students to attend several residencies each year where students meet at a university or venue of choice for workshops. This time should be used as an opportunity for students in the same discipline to collaborate face-to-face.
Compared to traditional brick-and-mortar teaching institutions, distance and online education is on the rise and is proving to be an effective method of education.
Distance Learning - Is it Right for You? is available in paperback and ebook at Amazon.com, or pdf version on BellaOnline eBook Store.
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