Put simply, distance learning is education taught remotely, without a physical classroom. Historically, the term distance learning mostly related to college programs that allowed students to study remotely. Now, distance learning applies not only to students at a college-level, but elementary, middle school, and high school, too.
There are a few different ways distance learning can be done:
The most common format, with classes and lectures presented over a conference call or webinar through Zoom. In some cases, these classes will have one educator leading the lesson while another is on hand to answer questions and monitor the students.
This allows for direct interaction between student and teacher, making it the type of distance learning that most closely resembles the traditional classroom setting.
In asynchronous learning, students are encouraged to work autonomously. There are no group lessons, only weekly tasks and deadlines to be completed individually. This self-study method offers flexibility to students to figure out their own structure and schedule, but offers far less group interaction and direct communication with the teacher.
Open-schedule courses are similar to asynchronous learning courses, only with even less restriction. Open-schedule courses don’t have weekly deadlines, allowing students to do things in their own time and better balance their extra-curricular commitments. This is a favorable option for full-time workers, parents, or anyone who wants to study but can’t fit traditional courses into their schedules.
Every institution will have its own method and structure for remote education that will likely fit into one of those categories, or be a hybrid of a few different types. Asynchronous and open-schedule education is more common for higher education courses.
Open-schedule courses allow for a lot more flexibility, not just in terms of where you study, but also when you study, making distance learning beneficial for those who will be working full time during their studies. For many, the ability to continue full time work alongside distance learning could be what enables study to be an affordable option.
In terms of costs, distance learning courses tend to be cheaper than campus-based courses, as they require fewer resources and infrastructure.
Distance learning courses sometimes offer students opportunities to pursue subjects or qualifications that may not be available locally, as you can study courses from colleges anywhere in the world without needing to leave home.
It’s important to consider every learning style when thinking about effective distance learning. There are visual learners, auditory learners, verbal learners, physical learners, logical learners, social learners, and solitary learners.
Educators must ensure that they cater to each personal learning style while guiding the class as a whole. This is achievable in the classroom, but when distance learning, it can be difficult to encourage physical and social learners. Without the right tools, collaborative learning can be limited too.
Discipline can become an issue for educators when distance learning. The same mischief you’d expect in a classroom, you should expect on a conference call, only it’s harder to keep under control from afar.
With students at home, they might be surrounded by more distractions than they would be at school. Chatter among students during a lesson might be harder to monitor and prevent too, considering it’s probably not happening out loud.
For students, it may be difficult to adjust to the new structure, and it can be easy to feel isolated and lost without much direct engagement with their teachers and classmates. Mental health is a big concern for distance learning; interaction and engagement are essential for young peoples’ development, and distance learning can feel like a barricade.
There are all sorts of quirks and consequences that are difficult to anticipate as distance learning continues to develop. Are we approaching a future where home learning is so reliable that snow days are no more? Are digital dioramas the future of science projects? Time will tell how the format evolves; but if you continue to heed the advice above, you’ll find yourself adapting with ease.