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Resources & Articles > What is Distance Learning?

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Distance learning is a course or program completed remotely from the school or university which offers the educational opportunity. E-learning, online learning, and distance education are other terms used for distance learning.

Most distance learning now occurs online, which requires that a student simply have access to a computer and the Internet. However, distance learning is a broad term which also describes coursework completed through the mail, as in the more traditional form of correspondence courses. Independent institutions, as well as traditional schools and universities, offer distance education. Some distance learning programs offer degrees, in addition to other educational certifications.

In addition to a computer and Internet access, a person enrolled in a distance education program might need computer software, such as an anti-virus, word processing, or spreadsheet program. Each individual program can provide the specific technology requirements for its courses. Distance education programs frequently charge tuition based on the number of courses, or credits, taken. By saving on commuting or relocation costs, distance learning can be an economical alternative.

Distance learning is attractive for several reasons, including convenience, flexibility, and pace. It is convenient because you can study when and where you want. For students who work or have families, the flexibility to schedule classes around such obligations is important.

Other students like the ability to work at one's own pace. For example, a distance learning student can complete assignments quickly, or work ahead on a subject that is easy for him or her. Likewise, a student can spend additional time on assignments that are difficult. Distance learning can also provide the opportunity to attain educational goals that can result in a promotion, salary increase, or entry into a new career.

One disadvantage of distance learning is the lack of social interaction. When students take courses through this method, they may miss out on classroom discussions and individualized instruction. However, many distance learning courses use chat rooms and bulletin boards to mimic a more traditional type of interactive and social learning environment.

When choosing a distance education program, evaluate the course content and the institution's accreditation. You might also want to consider costs, course methods, and the amount of student-teacher communication. Most online courses incorporate email and online discussion opportunities. When weighing costs, consider tuition, fees, and books, in addition to the cost of a computer, Internet service, and any other equipment needed.

Students who succeed at distance learning are generally very organized, self-motivated, and comfortable with a computer. Because specific deadlines for assignments do not always exist, those who procrastinate might find it difficult to get work completed. Several organizations related to distance learning provide information and references, including the U.S. Distance Learning Association, the International Centre for Distance Learning, and the Distance Education Clearinghouse at the University of Wisconsin.

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