The main difference between traditional higher education and distance learning is that instructor and students are not in the same classroom. It offers the same opportunity to take courses for self-improvement, certification, or to earn a degree, but does not necessitate a face-to-face communication.
Online distance education is a modern term, which formed and developed with the growth of the Internet. Distance learning, however, as an educational methodology is not new. Its roots lay in the correspondence courses of the late 1800s in the United States. In Europe, Africa, and Asia, distance learning has existed even longer. Some of the earliest correspondence programs were offered from land-grant institutions in their efforts to reach an agricultural population that couldn't afford to leave their work behind to attend college. They used postal services to send course materials to students in rural communities. Students were in turn expected to complete and return assignments through the mail. This concept of correspondence courses is still present today but distance learning has obtained a much deeper meaning with the advance of technology.
In the 1920s some schools began to utilize the radio in their correspondence courses. They broadcasted lectures to supplement the written course materials distributed by mail. Later on in the century TV appeared and soon it became another way to disperse knowledge from a distance. Then came broadcasting on dedicated cable channels and through the use of audio and videotapes. Most often it was the combination of these delivery methods that distance programs used.
Online distance learning is the new type of distance education, made possible by the existence of the Internet. It refers to the delivery of a distance-learning course through computer and the World Wide Web. E-mail, scheduled Internet Relay Chat or instant messaging, and the Web itself are considered the core elements of online distance learning.
Thanks to technology and the Internet, online courses are more like traditional classes than those correspondence courses from two centuries ago. Usually instructors post assignments (readings, lectures to watch, projects, etc.) on the Web or send them via e-mail, which students can process on their own. Upon completion of tasks, students send back their work the same way. The next step of online distance education is typically for all students to log on to the Internet (to a particular chat room or discussion board) at a given time to discuss their work. This provides them with the possibility to directly communicate with each other and get immediate feedback from the instructor. In addition, most online distance learning programs follow the same academic schedule and are based on semester or quarter terms.
If you want to earn a certificate or degree, or to improve your work skills and experience, but you cannot attend traditional courses for some reason, online distance learning may be a good choice for you. Pursuing an online degree has many advantages but to be successful in doing it you must consider the following issues:
- Commitment. You need to be committed. Just because you take an online course instead of a traditional one, it does not mean that it is going to be any easier. You may find that online courses are more rigorous and challenging than their off-line equivalents.
- Motivation. You really need to be highly motivated, because there will be times when you feel like you are all alone, with no one to turn to for advice or feedback. You must keep your end goal in mind and have the energy to go on.
- Discipline and order. Being well organized and disciplined will help you a lot with your online course. You will have study for exams and complete assignments the same way you would if you were taking a traditional course. You will need to prepare a schedule and strictly follow it.
Education is an investment in you and online distance learning is no exception. However, it possesses several advantages to traditional courses, which make it the preferred choice of many. Here are some of them:
- Learning at your own pace and on your schedule at your convenience.
- No need to travel to campus.
- Opportunity to study at home, at work, or even on the road.
- A learning experience that equals traditional classroom education thanks to the advance of the Internet and multimedia technology.
- Course availability 24 hours a day.
- A huge variety of online degrees to meet your specific needs.
- A huge variety of prices to fit your budget.
- A huge variety of universities to choose from.
- Development of new job skills or training for a new job.
- Opportunity to interact with learners from all over the world.