The “Distance Learning Phenomenon”
Distance learning programs – college courses taught over the Internet – have really taken off in recent years. As home computer ownership has expanded, due in part to lower prices and increased interest in the Net, the idea of working on a college degree in the comfort of one’s home has struck a chord. It’s definitely one of the more practical uses of online technology.
There are many advantages to distance learning. First, there is the convenience aspect for students. There’s no need to get ready (shower, shave, dress), no commute, and no walking from one side of the campus to the other to get to the next class. Additionally, in many cases there is no set meeting time, so no rushing to get to class on time. Many courses involve downloadable lectures, giving students maximum flexibility.
This has been enormously helpful for those who work full-time jobs during what are traditionally considered “normal” class hours. Now, the working distance learning student can keep a busy work schedule and still keep up with lectures and coursework. Likewise, the flexible structure has made life easier for many professors as well, who also deal with time pressures and scheduling constraints.
Another big advantage that distance learning offers versus in-person classroom attendance is money savings. With traditional college educations, there are everyday expenses that quickly add up:
- Gas, if you commute (which is now an even larger expense!)
- Vehicle maintenance or bus fare
- Dorm room fees, if you live on campus
- Meals at a local restaurant or campus cafeteria
- Clothing, makeup, etc.
Distance learning eliminates virtually all of that! Additionally, more and more programs are becoming nearly or even completely paperless. No more outrageous textbook fees, blue books, pens, Scantron forms, book bags, and all the other incidentals that accompany the old way of doing things.
The savings extend beyond just what the individual students experience directly. Universities also save tremendously, especially the newer ones that have been built around the distance learning model. Class size is more manageable in a virtual environment, reducing the teaching workforce and building space needs at many colleges. Moreover, a significant advantage for many universities is that more time can be spent by professors on critical research and scholarship, which is how many institutions earn reputations and make their money.
College tuition inflation is also a real and growing problem. And it’s borne by many students who already struggle just to make ends meet. At some traditional universities, tuition is increasing at an astonishing 10-15% annually, pricing potential attendees out of the running. This situation illustrates another advantage of distance learning. Institutions created specifically around the off-site education model offer comparable instructional quality at greatly reduced tuition rates.
The only potential cost disadvantage with distance learning is for students who do not already own a computer. However, this is increasingly a non-issue, since personal computer ownership, especially among teens, is rapidly expanding. And the cost for a basic PC has come way down in recent years.