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Should You Get Your Degree Through Distance Learning?

Distance learning is college coursework or degree program curriculum completed by students geographically separated from the college or university. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 56 percent of all two-year and four-year degree-granting institutions now offer some kind of distance education. Technologies used include a variety of teaching methods to deliver courses: the Internet, telecourses (broadcast/video), correspondence, or a combination of several media that may or may not require traditional on-campus instruction. Some colleges with distance education programs require students to come to the campus for an orientation before classes begin, while the remainder of the coursework can be completed primarily through the Internet or other independent study.

Many adult students find that the opportunity for flexible scheduling and not having to commute to the campus for classes are the main advantages of distance learning. However, distance education is not for every student. Some students need the face-to-face interaction and communication with the instructor found in traditional programs. Although studies have shown that distance students learn as much as and perform as well (if not better than) students in traditional courses, the attrition or drop-out rate for distance learners is often higher. Distance education students need to take a more active role in their own education, be disciplined and self-motivated in keeping a study schedule and completing coursework, and be able to communicate and work effectively with the instructor and other students through technology and other interactive environments (for example, online discussions or group conferencing.) Taking this active role in education helps adult students become self-directed learners who are skilled at using or learning new technologies, a strong advantage in the workplace.

Generally, to be successful with distance learning a student should:

  1. Be self-motivated and self-directed in completing coursework and assignments.
  2. Be assertive when needing to ask for assistance, and resourceful when meeting challenges.
  3. Be able to communicate effectively (especially in written communication or e-mail), and be able to work alone in independent study or participate in group activities.
  4. Be knowledgeable and comfortable with the distance education platforms used (i.e., the Internet) and possess the necessary technical requirements. For example, a high speed Internet connection is recommended for degree programs delivered online.
  5. Be able to prioritize work, academic, or other responsibilities and have the time to concentrate on the demands of college coursework.

A student's learning style is also integral to success. Students need to understand their strengths and weaknesses as a learner, and how they learn most effectively. For example, many students find they are primarily a visual learner, an auditory learner, or a kinesthetic learner:

  1. Visual learners learn from things they can see (i.e., print materials such as text, illustrations, and graphics).
  2. Auditory learners learn from things they can hear (i.e., listening to a lecture, a speech or other sounds) .
  3. Kinesthetic learners learn best from touching or working with objects (i.e., performing a task or learning by doing.)
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