To do or not to do – that is the question that plagues most students who are contemplating pursuing an education through distance learning. Over the years, distance education in various forms – distance learning programs from open universities, online programs and so forth, have helped realised the educational aspirations of students who could not attend full-time and campus-based classes.
Students often have apprehensions over opting for higher education via distance learning, as they lack clarity about the pros and cons of this mode of education. It’s a good idea to understand the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a degree through distance education before you decide if you want to go for this mode.
You must realise that distance education might not be the best choice for every student, but understanding its advantages and drawbacks can help you decide if distance learning is right for you.
1. You can pursue a job along with studies: A major chunk of students who actually opt for distance education are those who don’t want to give up their jobs but want a higher education, too. Distance education comes as a blessing for such students. You can study on the weekends, when you’re back from work or even in the middle of the night. You get to learn while you earn!
2. You can save money: For any given program, the fee of a distance education degree (online or otherwise) may be much more affordable than the fee of a regular on-campus degree. Students who are looking for economically viable options can go for a distance learning program.
3. You save time: There’s no time wasted in going to and from college, no time wasted waiting for a bus or train. In a distance learning program, your classroom is right in your bedroom – the study material on your desk or the e-material on your computer. Students who don’t have enough time on their hands can turn to distance education as an option and pursue it from the comfort of their homes.
4. You can learn at your own pace: The prospect of going back to classroom education can be intimidating for many of us. Asking a question or revealing that you are unable to grasp a concept in class can be quite embarrassing for many students. Distance education comes to your rescue here!
If you are self-disciplined and self-motivated, the best benefit of distance education is that you can learn at your own pace. It’s a known fact that different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. In a classroom, when everyone is being taught together, it is often difficult to have every student on the same page. Some students are too shy to raise their doubts in class. This is where distance education has an advantage over a regular campus program.
Since you are given all course work beforehand, you can study as much or as little as you want every day, as long as you complete your study material within the stipulated time. If you’ve doubts or queries, there are discussion forums, chat facilities with faculty and complete support from the distance education provider.
5. You can study whenever, wherever: Except in scenarios where you have to attend an online tutorial at a given time or a lecture through videoconferencing, you can pretty much study whenever you want to, wherever you choose to. You need not be stuck in a classroom, but can go study in your garden, on your living room couch or in the comfort of your own bed. Irrespective of whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl, you can choose an optimum time to study whenever you’re at your productive best.
6. Gaining recognition among employers: Distance education over the years has finally found some acceptance and recognition among employers, which is an encouraging sign. As long as the distance learning program is accredited, you need not be worried. In India, all distance education programmes that are approved by the Distance Education Council (DEC) stand automatically recognized for the purpose of employment to posts and services under the Central Government. Private sector employers also value a distance education degree now, and even encourage employees to pursue higher education along with their job so that employees can develop skills and expertise in their field of work.
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But there’s a flip side to every story. A factor that’s advantageous for one student might prove to be a drawback for another. Here are some situations that can turn out as disadvantages of distance learning.
1. Chances of distraction high: With no faculty around for face-to-face interaction and no classmates who can help with constant reminders about pending assignments, the chances of getting distracted and losing track of deadlines are high. You need to keep yourself motivated and focused if you want to successfully complete your distance learning course. Distance education is not a good idea if you tend to procrastinate and can’t stick to deadlines.
2. Hidden costs: Although the cost of a distance education program is usually cheaper than a regular program, there can be hidden costs involved. For example, if your distance learning course is offered online, you might have to incur some initial expenses like installing a computer and getting a reliable Internet connection. You may need to buy additional resources such as a printer, a web camera and so forth. Some expenses might be recurring, like maintenance and electricity costs.
3. Complicated technology: Overdependence on technology can be a major drawback in distance learning mode of education, especially when the learning takes place in an online environment. Any malfunctioning software or hardware can bring an ongoing class to a standstill and interrupt the learning process. Similarly, if a student is not computer and tech savvy, his learning experience can be dissatisfactory.
4. Quality of faculty compromised: Often considered to be the lesser cousin of regular education, distance education is often plagued by lack of enough good quality faculty members. In other cases, even if the instructor is good, he or she may not be comfortable with teaching in an online environment. Sometimes the technology might not do full justice to the delivery and design of the course. A student loses out in all these scenarios. Distance education providers should realise that it is not the technology, but good and effective teachers that teach students.
5. Questionable credibility of degrees: Even though distance and online education is starting to get recognition, there are still a lot of fraudulent and non-accredited degrees being offered. With the increase in the number of distance/online programs, the number of scam operators are also rising. This affects the credibility of recognised distance learning degrees among prospective employers.
6. Lose out on networking: The advantages of pursuing a regular programme go beyond just interaction with teachers and good course content. MBA graduates from premier business schools (B-schools) in India would vouch for the fact that the opportunities to network with established alumni, renowned faculty and industry heads go a long way in paving a secure career. A distance learning program loses out on this very important aspect.
Despite these perceived drawbacks, distance learning is gaining popularity among students like never before, with many students satisfied with their learning experience. With further advances in technology and more training to adapt teachers to this new mode of learning, the disadvantages in distance learning can soon be sorted out.
Notwithstanding its many inconveniences, distance learning provides students who wish to have greater comfort and versatility in pursuing a course many more learning choices. The key advantages of distance education are that they allow students to use minimal financial resources to access various learning tools. The use of video conferencing tools makes online learning even more immersive. This increases the ability to gather information on a specific topic and to preserve it.
Distance education however limits social interaction, requires the use of complex technology, and some employers perceive it negatively. Any student who wants to register for a diploma or graduate degree should balance between advantages and disadvantages in order to decide if it is the right option. Distance training will usually be the perfect option for students working.