What is Distance Learning?
As hinted by its name, distance learning is a remote learning practice, where students do not physically attend classroom-based learning and are not in regular face-to-face contact with a teacher or tutor.
Usually conducted over the internet and delivered by video calls and posting forums, distance learning can be synchronous, asynchronous (explained in detail below) or even a hybrid of both!
What are the types of Distance Learning?
What once used to be a rather long and tedious process, involving receiving and submitting course materials via the post and completing work at a student’s own pace, has now become largely popular due to advances in technology. It’s never been easier than now to attend web-based lectures from all over the world and download study materials within seconds.
1. Correspondence Learning
A more traditional and slower approach to distance learning, correspondence learning is where students receive their textbooks, assignments and other course materials in the post.
Learning falls largely to the student, who is encouraged to work through the materials at their own time and pace, though to complete and send assessments off by a certain date. Depending on the course provider, some students may be able to contact a tutor or instructor for help via email, telephone or an instant messaging technology.
There may even be occasional face-to-face meetings with tutors (if distance isn’t an issue), and some course providers offer a week-long introductory summer school so students can network with one another and meet their tutors in-person.
2. Electronic Learning
Electronic learning - or e-learning as it is often referred to - is similar to correspondence learning in the way that students are encouraged to study and work through course materials on their own. The difference between the two is that rather than receiving their study matter via the post, course material is usually digital and is typically accessed on a computer or tablet via a learning management system, CD or DVD.
Sometimes, these course materials can include pre-recorded lessons by teachers too, meaning difficult subject matter is supported with additional material to try and help students to navigate through it as smoothly as possible.
There may also be some in-person tutor meetings or student networking events hosted by the course provider to encourage some collaboration with others, though this can be infrequent and can involve a long journey for students who live far away from the event’s location.
3. Online learning
Online learning has become largely popular over the past decade, as the surge in technology has allowed students and teachers from all over the world to connect and communicate with each other easily. Usually a cheaper alternative to attending an in-person course, online learning still allows for plenty of communication between tutors and fellow students in real time via video chat and instant messenger.
There are usually scheduled classes and webinars that students are required to attend via video-link, and assignments and projects are expected to be completed in time for review. All of this, plus course materials are usually available to download from the online portal in which the course is hosted on.
Synchronous vs Asynchronous Distance Learning
Before embarking on a distance learning programme, it's essential to know whether the course offers synchronous or asynchronous learning (or a mixture of both!) Both forms of learning are very different and will complement different student’s learning styles. Let’s take a look at them in more detail:
Synchronous learning is where students learn at the same time as others, taking part in live webinars and virtual classes with their teachers and fellow students. Just like a physical classroom setting, there are often lots of interactions between students and teacher, and a chance to ask questions and get feedback in real time.
- Lots of communication and real-time interactions which can be hugely beneficial if you’re a remote learner.
- Active learning - Delve deeper into topics with class discussions and interactive question and answer sessions
- Instant feedback from your teacher/tutor on questions you have
- Access to some of the world’s best teachers/educational institutions without needing to leave your house
- Less flexibility - you will be required to attend lessons at scheduled times, which could be difficult if you’re part of an international learning programme
- Need the appropriate technology and a good Wi-Fi connection
- Adaptability - learning online with a group of students is different to a school setting and you will need to make some small changes to your preferred learning style to ensure a smooth transition. This could include putting questions in a chat box and remaining muted until prompted by your tutor to avoid disruption
- New technology - you will need to schedule in some time to familiarise yourself with the online portal to ensure you know how to attend classes when required
Asynchronous learning does not require live classroom participation. Instead, students have the freedom to work through course material at their own pace. There is usually a lot of online resources available to support students, and project submissions still usually have a required completion date.
- Flexibility - You can create your own study schedule that fits in around your lifestyle
- Study at your own pace - Allowing you to spend more time on sections you may find difficult, and work quickly through matter which you are more comfortable with
- Less classroom interruptions - Study time is on your own and other students won’t be able to distract you.
- Self discipline - You will need lots of self motivation and discipline to stick to your study schedule. Though you may have less classroom distractions, you’ll probably be studying from home and may get distracted by other things, such as your phone or the TV
- Less collaborative and communicative - There will not be many opportunities to interact and communicate with other students
- Delayed feedback - You cannot ask questions in live time and will have to wait for your tutor to get back to you
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Distance learning is remote education where students don't attend physical classes. It can be correspondence, electronic, or online. Synchronous learning is real-time with interactions, while asynchronous offers flexibility. Pros and cons include communication, flexibility, technology, and collaboration.