Given the current unfavourable financial prerequisites and implications involved with traditional learning in the UK, it’s no wonder that distance learning – or ‘home learning’ or ‘e-learning’ – continues to soar as an alternative approach to higher education amongst individuals looking to gain a certified qualification.
Anybody qualifies for distance learning courses but most distance learners tend to be people who are too busy with other responsibilities – be it work, family or both – to commit to a full-time, traditional course at a higher education institution.
Under these circumstances, to be able to study in the comfort of your own home and work at your own pace is generally far more appealing than the idea of travelling long distances and struggling to keep up with peers. Here at Oxford Learning College we appreciate that it might not be for everyone - which is why we've summarised a few of the main advantages and disadvantages of distance learning to help you decide for yourself if it's going to be right for you.
Advantages of Distance Learning
Flexibility is of course the key benefit of e-learning. Unlike traditional courses, you don’t have to plan your entire day around your studies; your studies can be planned around other responsibilities. At the beginning of a course you’ll be given deadlines for various modules and coursework assignments, and it’s up to you to decide when, where and for how long you are going to study.
A homely, quiet learning space with comfy sofas, cups of tea and an ample supply of biscuits at your fingertips versus a crowded, stuffy lecture theatre with a desk the size of a cook book and no light refreshments in sight; there is no competition really, especially when you consider the added stress of actually getting to the latter. A peaceful and agreeable learning environment brings out the best in any learner, and courses from home are more likely to help establish this.
Instant Support & Updates
A key benefit of online education is that everything is instantaneous. Tutors are able to quickly create and communicate updates to courses just as easily as students are able to receive and respond to such changes and messages. Online support is nearly always available at the click of a mouse, either through instant or, probably in most cases, video messaging services, and lectures can be delivered to thousands of students at a time, with none of the squinting or fear of speaking up you get with university lectures.
As you might expect, the cost of implementing online learning courses is much lower than that of traditional courses, where hiring classrooms, printing necessary course materials and the physical presence of staff at lectures are basic requirements. Thus, the cost for students is significantly reduced too, and they can be assured that more of the money they do spend is being invested on actually improving/researching courses, rather than on imposed overheads.
Needless to say, distance learning provides an alternative to paper-based learning and students don’t have to travel to and from lectures, meaning the CO2 emissions are reduced substantially.
Disadvantages of Distance Learning
Need to be Disciplined
With greater learner autonomy comes greater responsibility, particularly where discipline and organisation are concerned. Distance learners can’t afford to take their eye off the ball even for just a couple of days, since there is nobody around to remind them of deadlines or incredibly important announcements. It is essential that emails are checked and study timetables are stuck to, no matter what, or else students will quickly fall behind.
Isolation and Lack of Community
Although studying at home may create a more comfortable learning environment, students are of course left to tackle the course without the support and camaraderie of fellow peers, and as a result, can become frustrated or demotivated. Furthermore, distance learning centres are often few and far between so face-to-face encounters are very rare. Social network groups offer an adequate alternative but naturally learners will feel more confident about discussing course content if they have previously met their peers.
Hands-off Learning Approach
Online learning doesn’t appeal to all learning styles so some people may find that they don’t enjoy the experience. Anyone suited to practical, hands-on learning, for example, will have to adapt to the new approach and might find they get easily frustrated. Similarly, learners who feel they benefit strongly from going over learned material in small groups will find the process more challenging.
Most can relate to the infuriation brought about by a computer randomly switching itself off when work hasn’t been saved, or a poor internet connection preventing you from reading and responding to emails. For distance learners, however, the repercussions of such disastrous moments are far greater. No working device or no internet means you are completely locked out, so it’s crucial that all your devices are functioning properly and you have a reliable internet connection wherever you plan to work.
Diminished Social Life!
Unfortunately, there’s no way around this one; your social life will be impacted by your studies and you must have the discipline to both accept and endure this. However, all those Friday nights spent sat in front of a computer screen researching or re-editing (for the fifth time) a 2500-word assignment will pay off in the long run, and you’ll have saved a good deal of pub money too. Just focus on tea and biscuits instead of lager and crisps, and you’ll be fine.