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An Overview of Distance Learning

written by: Regina Woodard•edited by: Noreen Gunnell•updated: 11/14/2010

What is distance learning and why is it so popular? In this article, go over what distance learning is and some of the advantages and disadvantages of it.

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    The concept of distance learning is not new, however with the advances of technology and the Internet, distance learning has taken on a whole new path and with it, a whole new category of people who are using it.

    But what is distance learning? How does one utilize it and why would they? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

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    What is Distance Learning?

    Essentially, distance learning is the ability for a student and a teacher to share educational learning when separated by distance, either physical or time differences. Distance learning uses a variety of different types of technology in order for this process to work, such as CDs, video, tapes, and the Internet.

    The Internet itself has made distance learning become very popular, as students can takes classes, speak to teachers, classmates, and administrators by use of email or online chat. This isn't to say that distance learning is the same as e-learning, but that e-learning could be stated as an evolution or subdivision of distance learning. E-learning is essentially the use of technology to enable people to learn anytime or anywhere.

    What distance learning is comprised of.

    As noted above, distance learning comes in all types of forms - from CDs to videos. The Internet has given rise to what is known as e-learning, which is basically the ability to learn and be taught through means stemming from the Internet. But while e-learning is currently very popular, that is not to say that students are able to just learn from the Internet. DVD and CD video can be sent through the mail to students, enabling them to be taught through distance learning methods.

    Distance learning is very flexible, but may also be difficult for some students who are used to the traditional campus. This means that students need to be responsible in finding time to do homework or study times, as well as making sure they are able to get access to whichever means through which they turn in assignments.

    Who is distance learning designed for?What is Distance Learning? 

    Distance learning works very well for those individuals who wish for the chance of a higher learning experience but are unable to attend the traditional brick and mortar schooling. As technology changes how we go about the world, distance learning has become very popular for those who wish to either continue schooling or are entering college for the first time.

    Many full time employees find that distance learning works well for them. As they do not have the time that an on campus student would have, taking classes at certain times of the day helps them manageg a busy schedule. With distance learning, full time employees are able to either continue their schooling or start their schooling without losing benefits or pay by working part time hours or quitting their job.

    Members of the military may also find distance learning helpful while they are on tours of duty. With the possibility of a changing base assignment, distance learning allows a soldier to continue his or her education while off in another city, state, or country. Distance learning isn't just suited for college students and adults; high schools have begun to utilize the benefits of distance learning for their students, creating alternative schools that are quite different from their traditional high school counterparts.

    As noted above, while distance learning is very flexible, allowing for a student to choose the times in which they will take class, it can be difficult for students who have not taken distance learning classes before. Students are still expected to do their assignments and turn them in on time, though they must allow for complications. In a traditional school, students just hand in assignments to a teacher or TA; in distance learning, a student may need to make sure their Internet connection is working, that they ship assignments back a week before the due date, or that they have equipment for a conference.

    Students also may not have others to work with, as they may be in another city, state, or country. Setting up study times may be difficult with different time zones than meeting people locally. There are advantages and disadvantages to distance learning, but for many the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

    Image content @ DreamTime