Over the past decade, increasing numbers of students of all ages and backgrounds have enrolled in distance learning degrees through the Internet. The two forms of college education, the traditional on-campus degree and this new distributed learning approach, differ in a number of ways. Yet they both offer specific advantages.
The composition of the student population has changed significantly since the 1980s. A large number of today’s college students are older and more heterogeneous. They also demonstrate varying levels of academic preparation. Many would-be students graduated high school a number of years ago and, due to various family and employment commitments, no longer have the flexibility of attending a traditional university setting. Further, some individuals live in remote geographical areas or do not have appropriate transportation opportunities. Distance learning offers them a much more expedient way to further their education.
Distance learning offers such students the opportunity to learn online through their computers. Distributed learning programs are designed to enable individuals to achieve their educational and career goals in a way that is most convenient. They can arrange to study wherever they are and whenever they have the time arranged around their personal schedule.
At the beginning of a distance learning class, the instructors normally transmit all information on assignments and lectures and provide or explain the study materials required. Throughout the course, students complete the work on their own, just as they would in an on-campus classroom setting. They use their computers to interact in discussions, ask questions and receive feedback from both the instructor and other students. When assignments come due, they send them to their instructors online, who grades and sends them back with comments.
However, it is important for individuals to determine if distance education is the right avenue for them. It definitely is not for everyone. It requires a great deal of personal discipline and just as much, if not more, work and time commitment as a traditional classroom. If an individual is not self-motivated or has a tendency to put things off, it is very easy to get considerably behind the classroom schedule and not be able to catch up. With distributed learning, there is nothing stopping students from deciding to watch the latest reality show instead of turning on their computers. Also, would-be distance learning students need to be able to have an adequate understanding of computer technology and know how to read and study online course materials.
Despite the many individuals who are taking advantage of online learning, there are still growing numbers of people who want the on-campus experience. Some individuals believe that the traditional setting offers students the best overall achievement opportunity. They state that the on- campus classroom offers more possibilities for personal interaction and communication in addition to building relationships in a mutually familiar environment. Students are able to meet face-to-face with professors as well as classmates. Both oral and nonverbal communication skills are enhanced. In face-to-face dialogues with others in the same room, facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice definitely play an essential role.
Students also gain skills they will need in their future careers. In most cases, traditional college courses include team projects, where it is necessary to solve problems, set objectives and goals interactively with others. They are involved in a creative environment of active, participatory, exploratory learning. Sometimes, students actually help develop curriculum and class procedures.
On-campus students also appreciate the other experiences they have. They personally meet people from all different backgrounds and countries and acquire skills on how to relate to others whose goals and values may very significantly. The colleges offer a variety of organizations, leadership and participatory involvement, and on-campus activities and special events. Being able to study directly in the campus library is very helpful. In addition to coursework, students can attend special lectures and seminars and enjoy school and community offerings such as movies, theater and museums.
Lastly, an on-campus environment does not exclude technology and computer-based learning. Many students use their laptops and PCs to supplement their coursework, participate in chat groups, e-mail, and interact with the instructors. In many cases, the classes combine online and on-campus learning opportunities.
Both distance and campus education can be advantageous. However, each student must decide which of these offer the most effective learning style based on personal traits and interests. For some individuals, Internet courses that let students learn at their own pace and review content until completely understood is the best method. Others learn best in an on-campus environment where they can be motivated by and involved with others in a traditional classroom setting.
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