Distance learning involves using the internet to connect teachers and students in a virtual classroom, so that educators can share curriculum without stepping foot in the same space as their students. For years, distance learning has been used in higher and continuing education to increase access to education and add flexibility.
The unprecedented closure of schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly shifted distance learning from a useful alternative or supplement to a physical classroom to the only educational option. As a consequence, distance learning has suddenly become essential, not only for professors, college students, grad students, and professionals, but for kids in elementary school, middle school, and high school as well as their homeschooling parents.
As the ways people pursue education continue to change, distance learning will become increasingly common.
How it works
Distance learning has traditionally been useful for ongoing professional development and training. For years it has allowed students to pursue secondary or higher education. However, distance learning can now be applied in a growing variety of ways.
In synchronous distance learning, everyone attends a livestreamed virtual class at the same time. With these webinars, students from anywhere in the world can share an educational experience as the class moves through a defined curriculum together while physically apart. Like in-person classes, virtual classes encourage students to network and form study groups.
In asynchronous distance learning, assignments are digitally delivered to students who study on their own to complete tasks by specified deadlines. This type of instruction includes elements of the original distance learning — the correspondence course.
In open-schedule distance learning, which is a type of asynchronous distance learning, milestones are fixed, but deadlines aren’t, so students can work on their own schedule. This is especially useful for parents and full-time workers trying to build their expertise while raising their children and working.
Hybrid learning combines elements of all these forms of distance learning, setting schedules for certain courses that require access to an instructor and allowing self-directed learning for other lessons.
Distance learning can be adapted to a variety of situations, needs, and curricula. It’s versatile and maximizes opportunities for connections between students and teachers.
Pros and cons
Distance learning offers distinct benefits over in-person education but also carries some drawbacks.
Pro: More freedom for students and teachers, who can more easily access or offer classes without budgeting time and money to travel to an institution.
Con: Students require self-discipline to keep on track. Teachers must be more creative to plan courses that don’t require their in-person presence.
Pro: It’s easier for students to discover digital courses that they may find interesting and to attend training that can meaningfully advance their careers without risking their current jobs.
Con: Students miss out on in-person socializing and networking. Distance learning requires more effort to build relationships.
Pro: Remote learning offers every student, regardless of physical condition, social anxiety, geography, or existing commitments, the chance to deepen their education.
Con: Though online degrees are becoming more commonplace, and remain more affordable than traditional university degrees, it’s important to assess the credibility of the program to ensure sure your time and money will be well spent. Is the program accredited? Will you receive a degree or certificate that will bolster your resume? Is it well reviewed by other students? Are the teachers established in their field? Do your research before enrolling.
What’s next is now
Distance learning is quickly moving from a nice-to-have educational supplement to an essential conduit between teachers and students of every age and background. The form distance learning takes will continue to evolve, and its reputation is likely to continue improving.
Distance learning allows both students and instructors to continue working, studying, and relating through even the most uncertain situations, opening more powerful possibilities for us all in the times ahead.