Students usually decide to study at a distance, most often by online learning today, for the same reasons that they have always done so – the convenience. They are able to fit their studies around their life circumstances. The past decade has seen a large increase in the number of students who are distance learners. During that time the characteristics of distance learners has changed in some ways.
The majority of distance learners work full time or at least part time. This factor affects whether they are able to work on their degrees full time or part time and generally means that most distance learners are studying part time. They are usually studying in order to be eligible for a job promotion or to increase their knowledge in their career field.
Many distance learners live in rural areas. This is a characteristic that has changed in recent years. More students taking online courses are now living in urban areas. This is partially due to the number of people taking distance learning courses because they cannot attend classes due to their work schedules.
Most distance learners are over 25 years old. This is another characteristic that has changed recently. The average age used to be about 35 years. This has changed since distance learning appeals to younger students who are adept at using all the different technology that is necessary in online classes such as e-mail, bulletin boards, social networking, and all the other tools used. However, there is a wide age range of students. Older students who are now using technology to a greater degree, and those who are willing to learn to use it also study by distance.
North American distance learners are mostly women. However, this is not the case in all parts of the world. In some countries the reverse is true. There are some types of courses even in North America such as vocational courses where the number of women may be increasing but the number of people enrolled at this time is mostly male.
Self-direction in learning is one of the important personal characteristics for distance learners. The learners who are not able to direct and monitor their own learning will have problems because the instructor will not be doing that for them. Distance learners tend to be independent, self-motivated, and assertive. They also have good technological skills and have good communication skills. Another factor which is becoming a necessity for online learners is the ability to work in a collaborative capacity in groups. This means using those communication skills to do so, being willing to share knowledge with others, and knowing how to use the collaboration tools in a course.
Overall it seems that today, the characteristics of distance learning students is more heterogeneous than in the past. The profile consists of a wider range of ages, cultures, personal qualities and abilities now. This is a very positive change in the profile. It means that more people can be included and that they can all help each other to be successful. For example older students with more life and work experience can help younger students to understand concepts and ideas; while the younger students can help the older students learn to use the required technology to accomplish their learning. And this can all be accomplished by making use of those communication and collaborative skills. What a wonderful time to study for people who are truly motivated to learn by distance learning!