Attend College from Home
What is Distance Learning?
Distance education takes place when teachers and students cannot be present in a traditional location like a classroom or even a physical campus. Learning at a distance now uses personal computers and internet communication, but the concept dates from the 18th century. Originally, distance education used the mail service to pass teaching materials to students and students’ work back to teachers, who charged fees for what were called “correspondence courses.”
The advent of radio and television introduced education using those broadcasts, and the internet later made dissemination of instruction even more widespread and simple. Today, many reputable universities offer programs online, including paths to a wide array of professional degrees.
While the usual mode of teaching is by computer, you can still take some courses by mail, but you may pay more for the postage and printed material and you must wait for mail delivery in both directions. Taking a course online involves logging into a remote system that delivers your homework assignments, lecture notes, and tests.
Advantages of Distance Learning
- No relocation is required. You and your school can be half a world apart and still be able to connect with each other for the purpose of instruction. You may not ever see your teacher, or classmates, but you can still interact with them at scheduled intervals.
- Work from anywhere using an internet connection. The fastest possible connection is recommended if you participate in a course that requires you, your classmates, and your teacher to be online at the same time, because you will probably need to keep up with streaming video or live chat.
- Flexible class schedules. The instant accessibility afforded by the internet, when used in a distance learning program conducted by e-mail or some other method that you can use at any time, means you can interleave your learning time with your other activities in the way most convenient to you.
- Save time and money by not traveling to and from physical classrooms.
- Tuition may be cheaper. That is not always the case, because when you study in the online division of a traditional university, you often take the same courses and pay the same tuition. However, the value you receive is clear, and such a degree (for example, a B.A. from Penn State as opposed to one from University of Phoenix) is worth more in the job market.
- No fear of asking questions. Many students are timid when it comes to classroom participation for fear of seeming slow or asking obvious questions. When you communicate with a professor individually, you can explain your query more fully, unhampered by self-consciousness.
Disadvantages of Distance Learning
- No social interaction. This drawback is probably of more importance to younger people, because older working students may welcome the respite from face-to-face meetings. However, if stripping the frills from your education and achieving the most possible in the time you have is a priority, the lack of socializing does serve that purpose.
- No extracurricular activities… or that was the rule before it became possible to join a university club and participate online. Even if you can’t be there in person for club activities, you can sign up and volunteer to help out with the club’s website, for example. And if you can show up at an event once every few months, you can meet the people you’ve been talking to in the virtual world.
- Motivation and focus may present a problem. Some people find it easier to remain interested in a course if they’re physically present in a classroom, but it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a challenge you would face as a distance learner.
What You Will Need For Distance Learning
Every school has its own student eligibility requirements, but there’s no reason to expect those to differ for distance education. You will need to have either a high school degree or GED. If English is your second language, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), is usually required.
For online learning, you must have a reliable computer and internet connection. Those are essential to success, because you are responsible for securing access to the classes and coursework. Always have a backup plan in case your computer or connection fails to work.
Your contingency plan could be a friend’s computer, library, internet cafe, or a Kinko’s– for renting computer access, just verify location, business hours, and cost ahead of time. Some schools offer technical support to help you connect.
Choosing A School
Do check the credentials of your online university thoroughly before enrolling. If you choose a school that’s an online branch of a well-known traditional university, that job has been done for you by the school’s known history, and consequently you should take that path if at all possible.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of recognized accrediting agencies, and that is where your vetting should begin. It is also recommended that you select a nonprofit school rather than an institution that expects to earn money on your tuition.
How To Pay For Your Degree
As distance education moves into the mainstream of education, it has gained access to types of financing, like federal and private student loans, that were once reserved for students at physical universities. There is a useful page on the Federal Student Aid website that helps you calculate the cost of your degree and gives you information on payment options.
As you see, most types of student financial aid are given only to students attending accredited schools, so starting your review of schools with that in mind is necessary. There is more detail about loans available for distance learning here.
The current challenges facing traditional colleges and universities, including higher tuition, budget cuts, and course shortages, have caused many students to search for alternatives. With nearly three million students currently enrolled in fully online degree programs and six million taking at least one online course as part of their degree program, online education has clearly become one of the most popular higher education alternatives. The continually improving reputation of online learning has also helped fuel its expansion, as initial skepticism has faltered in the face of evidence that shows that online learning can be just as effective as face-to-face education.
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All of this means that students, from working professionals to recent high school graduates, find many reasons to take all or some of their courses online. Below are 10 advantages to online learning.
- Variety of programs and courses: From traditional four-year universities to completely online career colleges, higher education today offers a variety of options for students. This means that no matter what students wish to study, from nursing to neuroscience, they can find online the courses or degree programs they need. They can also earn every academic degree online, all the way from a career certificate to a doctorate.
- Lower total costs: Online programs can be a more affordable option than traditional colleges. Though not all online degrees have less expensive net tuition prices than traditional colleges (link to OEDB article I wrote about college costs), associated costs are almost always less expensive. For example, there are no commuting costs, and sometimes there is also not any required course materials such as textbooks because those are often available for free online. In addition, many colleges and universities have begun to accept credits earned via free massive open online courses (MOOCs), the most recent advance in online education. Free online courses such as these can help students fulfill general education requirements at little to no cost.
- More comfortable learning environment: Commercials that featuring online students studying in the pajamas only skim the surface of one of the primary benefits of online education: there are no physical class sessions. Lectures and other materials are electronically sent to the student, who will then read them and complete assignments. Students will not have to fight traffic, find parking spaces, leave work early to go to class, or miss important family time.
- Convenience and flexibility: Online courses give students the opportunity to plan their study time around the rest of their day, instead of the other way around. Students can study and work when they are at their peak energy, whether that’s early morning or late at night. Course material is always accessible online, so there’s no need to schedule special trips to a library either. All of this makes online learning a good option for students who need to balance their work and family commitments.
- More interaction and greater ability to concentrate: While there is contradictory evidence about the rate of online student participation versus participation in traditional courses, one thing is certain: online courses offer shy or more reticent students the opportunity to participate in class discussions or chats with more ease than face-to-face class sessions. Some students even report that online courses are easier to concentrate in because they are not distracted by other students and classroom activity.
- Career advancement: Students can take online courses and even complete entire degrees while working, while in-between jobs, or while taking time to raise a family. This academic work will explain any discontinuity or gaps in a resume as well. Also, earning a degree can show prospective employers that you are ambitious and want to remain informed and prepared for any new challenges.
- Continue in your profession: Even if someone wants to complete a degree program, it doesn’t mean that they want to leave their current job. For most students today, college costs mean that it’s necessary to continue working while in school. The previously mentioned flexibility of online degree programs enable students to keep working while also pursuing academic credentials.
- Avoid commuting: During snowstorms and thunderstorms, colleges may cancel classes; if they don’t, you run the risk of getting hurt in dangerous driving conditions. Rather than miss important class sessions, students in online courses can always “attend” by participating on discussion boards or in chat sessions, turn in their work on time, and watch lectures or read materials. Many students also find that the amount they save on fuel costs can be substantial if they don’t have to commute to a physical campus in general, no matter what the weather conditions may be.
- Improve your technical skills: Even the most basic online course requires the development of new computer skills, as students learn to navigate different learning management systems (LMS) and programs. The skills students learn to participate in their online courses translate to many professions, including creating and sharing documents, incorporating audio/video materials into your assignments, completing online training sessions, etc.
- Transfer credits: For college students who want to attend summer classes, but who live too far from their colleges or have to work summer jobs, taking online classes from an accredited college and transferring the credits to their primary college is a good idea. Students will be able to earn college credit while still enjoying their summer vacation or fulfilling the responsibilities of their seasonal jobs. Similarly, if a college or university is unable to offer enough open sections of a required course, students can take the course online at another college and transfer the credits.
These are just a few of the many advantages of taking online classes. Students in online degree programs are able to manage their time, learn the materials that are presented, and complete assignments on their own schedules.