Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Pluses and Minuses of Distance Learning

As an in-person as well as an online instructor, I enthusiastically endorse either mode of education.

One of the best ways to decide on whether to enroll in an online (distance learning) course is to ask someone who has already taken one. Here is a vote for distance learning from Anna Dalli, Administration Coordinator at Public Broadcasting Services Limited, Malta, who received a Master of Training and Human Resource Management degree through the distance learning program from the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the University of Leicester, Great Britain. This is what she wrote about the experience:

Like anything else distance learning has its advantages and disadvantages. Students do not have to be physically present at a specific place at a particular time. This is a great advantage for non-traditional students especially adult learners who are working and cannot attend University at regular times. Although not everyone is suited for this type of learning, adults are the more likely to achieve success with this method of learning. … The student has to have a number of characteristics such as tolerance of ambiguity, a need for autonomy and an ability to be flexible. Compared to face-to-face learning environments, distance learning requires students to be more focused, better time managers, and to be able to work independently. … Distance learners are different from traditional undergraduates in that they are already in professions. They have well defined goals and are more motivated. One might say that since there is no face-to-face contact with the lecturer, the students may have problems in self-evaluation. … Separation of student and tutor imposed by distance removes a vital link of communication between these two parties. However, from my own experience I can vouch that this was not the case, primarily because I was motivated, had all the support from Centre for Labour Market Studies and the agent in Malta, the Foundation for Human Resource Development.

I agree with Dalli's fair assessment of the situation, and I would add one more plus: Distance-learning environments often compel students to write much more than they would in a traditional classroom. For this reason alone, I support it as a good means of cultivating writing skills.