by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
While the types and methods of distance education continue to grow and evolve, potential students should consider some identifiable factors common to all types before enrolling. While these factors are not applicable to every distance learning situation, they do apply to most.
After reading these pros and cons of distance education, you should more closely examine the online programs that most interest you to be sure they fit your life, job, and career needs.
Distance Learning Pros:
Here are some of the benefits of distance education courses.
Convenience — take online courses when you need them, not based on some college’s annual or semester schedule. A course is as close as a computer with an Internet connection.
Flexibility — with no set class times, you decide when to complete your assignments and readings. You set the pace. In some programs, you can even design your own degree plan.
Availability — distance-learning opportunities have exploded over the past few years, with many accredited and reputable programs.
Cost — prices are often cheaper for online courses than traditional college and trade courses — with no housing or meals plans to worry about.
Self-Directed — you set your own pace and schedule, so you control the learning environment.
Time Spent in Classroom — now you can take a course on just about any subject without ever having to be in — or travel to — a classroom so you have very little wasted time. Note, however, that some distance-education programs still do have an in-class component.
Accessibility — with an online course, you can work on the course just about anywhere you have computer access.
Better for Some Learners — distance-education courses are often better for people who learn through visual cues and experiential exercises and those that require more time, are language-challenged, or introverted.
No Travel Expenses — you may never even have to leave your house to take an online course, and certainly there are no relocation costs.
No Interrupting Job/Career — because distance learning courses are located in cyberspace and controlled by your pace, there is no need to quit your current job — or even take a leave of absence — to go back to school.
Distance Learning Cons:
Here are some factors that could negatively affect your success with distance learning courses:
No Instructor Face Time — if your learning style is one where you like personalized attention from your teachers, then online education will probably not work for you.
Perceptions/Reputation — while slowly changing as more and more mainstream colleges and universities embrace distance learning, there still is a stigma attached to distance education.
Requires New Skills/Technologies — if you’re not computer-savvy or are afraid of change or new technologies, then online education will probably not work for you.
No Social Interaction — while you often interact with classmates via email, chat rooms, or discussion groups, there are no parties or offline get-togethers.
Making Time — if you are a procrastinator or one of those people who always needs an extra push to complete work, you may have a hard time making time for your online classes.
Little Support — students are expected to find their own resources for completing assignments and exams, which is empowering for some, but daunting for others.
No Campus Atmosphere — part of the traditional college experience, of course, is the beauty of the campus, the college spirit — but you have none of that with distance-education courses.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this quiz? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.