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What is Distance Learning and How Can Students Benefit from It?

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As the internet continues to influence daily life, educational institutions have begun to take advantage of the possibilities that it brings. One of which is distance education. Distance education enrolments in the US have increased for the fourteenth straight year since 2002. Self-paced e-learning is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 2.13% between 2019-2025, and this coincides with rising interest in digital and open educational resources (OERs) such as virtual reality and games. It seems that everything is set and students all over the world are heading in this direction.

So what is distance learning? Often used interchangeably with online learning and e-learning, distance learning is a method where students and instructors correspond over the internet without meeting in an actual classroom. Students may be required to submit requirements or interact in a virtual classroom. Some distance learning classes also follow a set schedule in sync with other students.

Advantages over traditional learning

The most obvious benefit of distance learning is accessibility. Classes can be undertaken anywhere that has a solid internet connection. This allows students to learn from academic institutions that are miles away from them.

Students also have more flexibility in picking their class schedule as well as the freedom to set their own pace. In a traditional setting, students dedicate hours commuting to school and getting in the groove of campus life. But in a distance learning setup, a student can stay at home and be free to do other tasks in between classes. In some cases, pupils can also watch lecture videos, read study material, and participate in discussions via teleconferences.

While these benefits may seem rather self-evident, distance learning has other, less straightforward perks. Some of these advantages were discussed by Maryville University, including smaller class sizes and technology-centric methods. A smaller class size allows instructors to focus more on each student. And since most distance learning classes are done online, educational institutions continue to come up with more innovative learning methods. For instance, some schools have embraced gamification after their online classes showed positive results. Even traditional classrooms are also adopting digital pedagogical tools to help students learn better, as explained in another post here on Shelflife Magazine titled ‘Help Students Learn Better’. This shows that distance learning is at the forefront of educational innovation. It’s a trend that may foster innovative thinking, a quality which is very useful in the workplace.

Because these courses are open to anyone in the world, distance learning typically provides a network of students from different backgrounds as well. Interacting with fellow learners from the other side of the globe lets you learn about other languages and cultures first hand. Having a contact in different regions may even translate to more career opportunities.

Most of all, distance learning is considerably less expensive than traditional campus classes. According to Inside Higher Ed, legislators in America have taken steps to minimize fees on distance education. Distance learning is a viable option for students who have financial limitations.

The road ahead

Overall, the continuous growth of distance learning may lead to a slow but fundamental transformation in education. A study from the University of Central Florida on millennial students indicated a preference for dynamic and technology-based education. Nonetheless, students still look for more meaningful interaction, better course design, and learning experiences. These are universal demands that apply to both the traditional and non-traditional learning environments.

While the potential of distance learning is exciting, the goal remains the same – to make it as fruitful as any face-to-face learning experience.

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