Overview of Web-Based, Online and Distance Learning

Overview of Web-Based, Online and Distance Learning
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Modern Technology and Terminology

At some point during the last 10 to 15 years, most of us have heard phrases like “distance education” and “online learning.” Are they the same as web-based learning? Well — yes and no. The three terms have subtle but important differences.

Distance education is any form of education that can be achieved from a distance. It takes place without brick-and-mortar campus attendance — but it does not necessarily refer to online education or web-based learning. Whenever students engage in any educational program without physically attending a college, it is a form of distance education.

For instance, in the years before the Internet, students had the option to study at their own pace via mail. Correspondence courses allowed students to study from their homes using college materials that had been mailed to them. Subsequently, they would mail in their exams and await feedback and/or more materials. While the term “distance learning” or “distance education” covers this kind of education, it is a broad term that can also refer to online learning and web-based learning.

Web-based learning, also known as online learning, is any form of learning that takes place online. This could be anything from interactive teaching programs to PowerPoint tutorials, online lectures, or following an online syllabus outlining required reading, written assignments and online exams. Web-based learning falls under the umbrella of distance learning, and is conducted specifically online.

The Advantages to Web-Based Learning

Web-based learning has many advantages for the modern student, mainly because it allows students the flexibility to attend college without having to change their daily schedules. Granted, some time does have to be planned for daytime studying — but all in all it is much more practical and flexible than a traditional college. This means that many students who would not have gone to college because of work or family concerns now have the option to earn a degree online, whether through a certain institution’s online degree program or through a college that is entirely online. It also saves money — no need to buy gas for commuter attendence or pay room and board. For those concerned with eco-friendly living, web-based learning also cuts down on paper costs and automobile pollution.

General Differences between Web-Based Learning and Campus Attendance

Web-based learning and on-campus education come with unique challenges and benefits. Someone’s choice of one over the other is purely personal, as the different styles and methods of learning will appeal to different people. Some people perform better in a person-to-person atmosphere. They may feel compelled to learn because they are actively inspired by other students and teachers. On the other hand, they must shuffle from class to class, worrying about work and family, with little choice about being in that specific class, at that hour, on that day.

Web-based learning is a different story, and it fits the needs of a completely different type of learner. It is a more individualized, self-paced approach. Students still have assignments that must be turned in on time, but there is no hustle and bustle of heading to class with books, assignments and materials in tow. However, web-based learning can be difficult for the unorganized, the unmotivated, or the undisciplined. Also, the social aspects of college life are lacking if you’re learning from the Web. These are good reasons why web-based learning is a better option for returning and adult students.

Does Web-based Learning Cost More Than a Traditional Education?

Online learning is convenient — and generally, convenience comes with a price. Web-based learning can actually be more expensive than a traditional college education, depending on which colleges you compare the specific online program to. However, taking into account the savings on gas, food, time away from work, and babysitters, the price for the convenience of online learning may not seem so high after all.

Some online colleges only charge slightly more, often in the form of what is called a “technology fee.” Other colleges, however, charge much more for online learning. If you are taking classes outside of your residential state, you could be looking at double what you might pay for a college in your hometown. The key is to do research on your desired major, find out how many class credits are required, how many credits can transfer and how many credits must be acquired from that particular online degree program. With so many options, thorough research is very important — it could save you thousands of dollars and years invested.

Finding the Right Virtual College

Speaking of research, finding the right online college is no easy task. As with traditional college, avoid changing majors and colleges several times before you know what you want to do. This will avoid the loss of time, money and energy that could be spent working toward completion of the program of your choice. Even if you begin research with a solid idea of your major, education and career goals, what you find could change your mind. Before you commit to enrollment, make sure you ask, “Is this what I want?”

One of the steps you can take is checking out an up-top-date book on distance education at your local library. Can’t find it? Ask the librarian. Librarians are required to have Master’s degrees, and know their library and community inside and out — some of them may even have earned their degree online! If you are still having difficulties, go to the Department of Education website and search through the list of accredited colleges. Each listed college with a website generally comes with a link to their site. Before you go out-of-state, look for colleges in your area to see if they have a web-based learning program. Time-consuming as it is to find the right web-based learning program, your research will be rewarded in the end.