10 Pros And Cons Of Distance Learning

If you are thinking about distance learning but haven't fully made your mind up then this article covers everything you need to know so that you can decide whether distance learning is for you
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Whether you have just left school or whether you have given up work to raise a family but still want to further your education and have better access to career opportunities know there is a way for you to achieve this. Distance learning. You can learn any subject at any level solely through an online platform. This article discusses the pros and cons of distance learning so that you leave here fully informed and ready to make a decision about how you choose to study.

What Is Distance Learning?

Distance learning is the alternative method to classroom-based learning where students study their course 100% online/remotely. This type of learning is not new, however, as it has been around for decades but due to the Covid-19 pandemic what was once regarded as a "not recognised" way of learning has now become the most effective and most in-demand way to learn.

Distance Learning
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash 

Pros

1. Study anytime, anywhere

Studying online means you have access to your course anywhere in the world, at any time of the day or night wherever you are and the best part is, there's no travel involved so you can save money and time! So, you can study your course on the way to work or while the kids are at school, or whenever you find the time (say hello to studying in your pyjamas!). The flexibility of distance learning allows you to work around your commitments and shows your ability to adapt to situations. It also means that attendance rates will be higher than that of physical learning as there will be fewer sick days taken and if they are taken you are able to catch up because you set the pace.

2. You Study At Your Own Pace

With distance learning, you set the pace. All online courses are structured in such a way that you have more freedom than that of a traditional learning environment. This makes it very friendly for those who are working, raising young families, or those that travel a lot. So no matter how busy your schedule is, with distance learning you can still fit your studies in around it. You wouldn't get that in a traditional learning environment. 

3. The Cost 

Distance learning courses tend to be more affordable than those taught in a bricks and mortar building for the simple reason that there are no overhead costs for equipment, stationery, lecturers, classrooms, etc. The majority of distance learning course materials are available only online so there is no additional cost for textbooks. 

4. It's Easy To Apply

Applying to study for an online course is easier than for in-person learning. Depending on the provider start dates are either scattered throughout the year and not just once a year or they are continuous so there is no need to stress about missing a deadline for applying.

5. You Can Earn A Qualification Quicker

Since you decide the pace to work at, you could earn your qualification faster than with physical learning where the structure is set for you. This doesn't apply to Degrees and Diplomas, by the way, this also applies to short courses with certificates. However, with regard to Degrees, it is worth mentioning that some universities and course providers offer accelerated programmes for this qualification meaning that you complete the course in a shorter period of time, usually two years instead of the regular three or four years taken to earn a Degree. Now, you may think "if I complete it faster is it still legit?" well the answer is yes, it is. The outcome is still the same, you receive your qualification just as you would on a longer course it's just the length of time it takes to complete it that differs.

6. It Gives You Purpose

Working towards a qualification in your own time is a very rewarding thing. It gives you something to set your sights and focus on. It allows you to spend valuable energy and countless hours of your time towards achieving a life-changing goal. Something that is so meaningful you'll never feel that it was a waste of time. It makes you feel complete and gives you something to work hard for and once you achieve it you'll be so proud of yourself you'll perhaps even wonder why you didn't do it sooner but hey, all that matters is that you did it.

7. You Can Gain Recognition From Employers

Distance learning was once regarded by many as "a waste of time" as there was no accreditation behind the courses that were offered, however, that is no longer the case as many leading universities now offer plenty of their Postgraduate courses via distance learning as they recognise that students are working full time and so are often unable to attend lectures in person as they once did at Undergraduate level. The majority of online courses offered by many UK universities are accredited, which simply means that the course is recognised amongst industry professionals. This has led to a u-turn in attitude from employers towards distance learning as they can see that the course meets the requirements for the professions. The Covid-19 pandemic saw many schools and universities adopt distance learning as a way to keep their students educated throughout lockdown and so it is fair to say that employers are more likely now to be in favour of someone who has studied via distance learning as it takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation to meet deadlines and submit assignments without the support system of your fellow classmates. To add, there is no reason now for people to suggest that distance learning is a waste of time where the courses are accredited.

8. Communication Is Easy & Straightforward

With distance learning, communication couldn't be easier. You can email or arrange a phone call with your tutor or student support team at any time should you feel that you are not understanding the course or if you need to ask for an extension to an assignment. Likewise, communicating with your fellow classmates is more simplified. All distance learning providers operate this function differently so for some courses you may be able to chat with your classmates within a chatbox feature or as part of your course you may have the opportunity to discuss a module topic within a small group. Alternatively, there are many instances where students set up WhatsApp groups or study groups to be able to share ideas and stay in contact with their classmates thus helping to build friendships. 

9. You Are Able To Have 1:1 Help 

Unlike traditional learning environments where lecturers/tutors have to spread their time and attention across the whole class fairly, distance learning allows for said lecturers/tutors to allocate a designated amount of time and attention towards one student at a time. This means that there is more time for your concerns and questions to be heard and more importantly answered. Having this type of help available is really beneficial to distance learning particularly if you are struggling to understand an assignment question and need an answer quickly or perhaps you want to go over feedback given to you by your lecturer/tutor or for them to explain their feedback so that you understand the points made by them.

10. You Can Achieve Your Dreams

And last but not least and probably the most important pro to distance learning, achieving your dreams. Unlike most traditional learning providers such as bricks and mortar universities, distance learning providers usually do not require any entry requirements to their programmes. For example, The Open University lives up to its name as it does not have any entry requirements for any of its Undergraduate programmes. By removing this obstacle it means that many people are now able to study and earn a Certificate, Diploma, or Degree where they otherwise wouldn't have been able to at a traditional university. So, if you didn't knuckle down in high school and get good grades or if you didn't get the grades you so desperately wanted then distance learning is your chance to still achieve your dreams of higher education. 

Person Writing
Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash 

Cons

1. Technical Issues

As discussed, distance learning is studied entirely online from anywhere in the world. Now, that sounds great until you factor in the possible issues you may encounter as a distance learning student. The main one being poor internet connections or disconnections. Coupled with this is the risk of technology playing up such as websites not loading or crashing. Other risks include laptops or mobile phones breaking, online teleconferencing software issues, and the possibility of power cuts so making sure you save and back up your work is always a must.

2. Length Of Time It Takes To Complete A Course

Earlier in the article, the point was mentioned that you can set the pace for your studies, however, this does have its own cons. One of these being that despite being able to set the pace there is still a timeframe for you to complete the course. For example, The Open University gives you a maximum of 16 years to complete your Degree. Therefore it is always worth checking with the distance learning provider how long you are given to complete the course before you enroll. As some courses can take years to complete, if you are someone who finds it hard to stay focused and motivated then you may find distance learning very difficult and therefore this might not be for you.

3. It Can Be Rather Lonely 

One point which is extremely important to discuss is the fact that distance learning is very solitary. You will spend a great deal of time studying on your own with little interaction with other students and your lecturer/tutor. Of course, there is the possibility of meeting up with your fellow classmates to create a study group but if you live in an area that is out in the countryside then this may not be an option for you due to travel. There are also not very many in-person events like Freshers Week as these all tend to be online so again there is very little face-to-face interaction with people. 

4. Being Comfortable Using Technology Is Essential

It goes without saying that distance learning courses are studied solely online, therefore, you must be comfortable using technology (laptop, computer, mobile phone, tablet, iPad, and other potential software unique and specific to your course) otherwise you may get overwhelmed and stressed with your studies. 

5. You Need To Be Self Disciplined

To be able to successfully complete your course via distance learning you will need to ensure you are self-disciplined as you are in charge of your own studies. As a student of The Open University, I follow a student planner that is provided as part of my module for my Degree to keep track of my progress and to see what tasks are required for that week but it is up to me to make time every day throughout that week to undertake the work. Effectively, you are teaching yourself the module materials and making sure you meet any deadlines for assignments so you need to be able to use your time wisely in order to do so.

6. Funding 

Now, as we know distance learning is usually less expensive than traditional bricks and mortar learning, however, options for funding can be extremely limited. Factors that play a part in determining this are location, current employment status, previous level of study, and duration of the course. If you are in any doubt as to whether you qualify for funding then please make sure you ask your distance learning provider as soon as possible and preferably before you enroll on your course.

7. Duration Of Your Course: It's A Commitment 

As with any other way of studying there is a specified time period in which to complete the course. Earlier in this article, we covered the point that you have more flexibility with this, however, one thing to consider is that if you choose to study your course part-time you will obviously take longer to complete your course. For example, I am studying a BA (Honours) Business Management (Marketing) Degree at The Open University. I first began my course in 2018 and I am due to finish it in 2023. That's a total of 6 years! I knew this going into my studies but it is something to really think about depending on your age and how much time you really have to give towards studying. Yes, my course is flexible in that I can choose how many modules I want to study in a single year but that also increases the level of work I would be doing which at Stage 3 (the last level at The Open University) isn't really advisable. You need to think about whether you can manage to work part-time and study full-time or vice versa. I don't recommend trying to do both full-time work alongside full-time study, although it has been done by people. So my advice to you is to really think about your time carefully and wisely and plan your studies in advance before you enroll just so that you are comfortable and are prepared for getting yourself into studying because it is a commitment.

8. Overwhelming Choice Of Courses

Nowadays with the vast majority of universities and independent distance learning providers offering courses online, it can be truly overwhelming to pick the right course. My advice to you here is to do your research and do as much of it as you possibly can. What do I mean by research? Well I mean read reviews on forums, the course websites, watch YouTube videos of people who have attended the course, and ask friends and family about places to study. Trust me doing your research is the best thing you can do as your first step towards securing your place on a course. There have been many instances where people have stated on forums and review sites like Trustpilot that they were scammed out of money for courses or that the course they attended didn't cover enough material or that tutors weren't educated enough themselves in the subject they were deemed to be fit to teach. It's important that you reassure yourself of any doubts that you may have and so by asking questions you can start to eliminate those doubts helping you to make a decision about where to study. Please be wary of places that have very low fees as the quality of the course is most likely to be poor. Look for the word "accredited" in the course description and if in any doubt you can always contact the regulatory body that accredits the course and ask them whether that course is in fact legit.

9. Some People May Disregard Distance Learning

Nowadays most employers highly regard distance learning courses such as those offered by The Open University as it shows dedication and independent learning on behalf of the student/potential employee, however, there is never a guarantee that everyone will hold the same view. Unfortunately, you may encounter a few who look down at distance learning but the main point here is that that is their issue, not yours. If the distance learning provider is reputable as is the case with The Open University then there is no difference between a traditional university and a distance learning university apart from the method of studying. There have been many successful people in professions having graduated from distance learning education so this point is not to put you off distance learning but rather to make you aware that this is something you may encounter when interviewing for jobs. If it helps, I, myself, haven't encountered this issue at all.

10. Receiving Feedback and Help From Your Tutors

Unlike traditional education where you can ask a question and have an answer almost immediately with distance learning, it can take a bit longer to have any of your queries or concerns answered. Granted email is a fast way to send a response but remember your tutor has other students to help not just you so be prepared for delays in help and feedback. This is usually a minor hiccup and nothing to worry about but it should be mentioned nonetheless. During my studies, I saw my tutor's response times decrease due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So because I was aware of this I made sure to ask any concerns I had straight away rather than waiting too close to an assignment deadline. I also made every effort to attend my tutorials so that I had a better and clearer understanding of the assignment questions and if there was anything that I was unsure about I would ask the tutors leading the tutorial straight away. I found that the response time was obviously faster at tutorials than with emails.

Summary 

Distance Learning is a fantastic and truly innovative way to use technology and with a world that is now becoming more and more dependent on technology since the pandemic, it makes sense for more courses to be taught online. There are of course drawbacks as with anything so this guide is merely here to breakdown the main pros and cons to this way of studying.

I hope that this has been useful and I wish you the very best for your future!

Open Road In The Middle Of The Desert
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash 

References:

Chuklanov. A (2019), Person Using MacBook Pro Photo [Online]. Available at https://unsplash.com/photos/DUmFLtMeAbQ 

Bjork. M (2018), Person Holding Pencil And Stick Note Beside Table Photo [Online]. Available at https://unsplash.com/photos/rH8O0FHFpfw 

Plenio. J (2019), Brown Concrete Road During Daytime Photo [Online]. Available at https://unsplash.com/photos/2TQwrtZnl08 

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DMI Certified Digital Marketing Associate studying a BA (Honours) Business Management (Marketing) Degree with The Open University

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