What is Distance Learning?

Distance learning is a term that refers to classes that students take while away from a college campus. During the early days of these programs, students enrolled in correspondence courses. They received workbooks that they completed and sent those books back to instructors for grading. Schools later let students complete other assignments from home. The rise of the Internet led to colleges introducing online programs that come with all the benefits of those old programs and let students earn their degrees from home too.

Open vs. Closed Programs

Open programs, also known as massive open online courses, are programs that anyone can enroll in that colleges across the country offer. These courses feature video lectures that students can watch and assignments that they can complete online. While anyone can enroll, open programs do not award students any type of course credit. A closed program is a more traditional college program that allows students to earn their degrees through the courses they take over the computer. With a traditional online program, students must apply to the school and meet all requirements, which may include a high school transcript and/or a standardized test score.

Degrees and Certificates

Distance programs give students the option of completing degree or certificate programs. Degree programs are available at all levels. Students can enroll in a program to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or even doctoral degree. Some of the majors they can choose from include education, criminal justice, law, historic preservation, psychology and engineering. Many colleges also offer certificate programs that students can complete independently or at the same time they work on a degree. A student enrolling in an MBA program might complete a separate certificate in human resource management or leadership.

Advantages of Online Programs

The biggest advantage to online distance learning programs is that these programs increase the number of opportunities available to students. It no longer matters where they live, how much money they have or even if they have reliable transportation. Anyone who has a stable Internet connection and a computer can now enroll in online classes. The US Journal of Academics found that other benefits of online programs is that students can learn at their own pace, they can engage and chat with others via the college message board and students can enjoy the flexibility of taking classes around their already busy schedules.

Disadvantages of These Programs

Though online students often focus on the benefits of these programs, they should also look at some of the drawbacks too. An online distance education program requires that students set aside time each work for posting on the discussion board, doing readings for class, taking quizzes or tests and completing other assignments. Some students have a hard time dedicating themselves to that work. There is also a risk that students may fall victim to scam colleges. Also known as diploma mills, these colleges lack accreditation and give passing grades to all students, regardless of how much work the student does or whether he or she understands the work.

Distance education programs once required that students send assignments through the mail and wait weeks for professors to grade their work, but online programs now let them get a response in a fraction of the time. Online colleges are a new type of distance learning that appeal to many students.

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