With the ease of internet access and the relative capacity of the average home computer, internet-based online learning is becoming a viable option for students looking to expand their academic horizons without leaving the comfort of their own pyjamas.
Many universities have adopted online learning programs as a complement to their courses available on campus. Perfect for the student who is self motivated, disciplined and computer literate, these online courses offer time flexibility and a student-determined structure that is unavailable in an on-campus course where you are expected to attend classes on a regular, prescribed schedule. These courses are also economical, as you eliminate all transportation costs by not leaving home!
Distance learning is a great option if you're thinking of taking a few years off after high school to work but don't want to fall too far behind in your studies. Or perhaps you live in a remote location and don't feel ready to leave home for university, or don't want the expense of living away from home - distance study means you need not leave your home community to attend school. Or, if you are planning on doing some travelling or living abroad for a year, why not take a course or two as you explore the world? That way you've still got a foot in the educational pool, and you're learning about your options for if and when you decide to delve into a program full time (or at least until you decide to pick a major!) in the future. If you have access to the internet, you have access to an education.
So How Does it Work?
Now that you're interested, how does distance learning work? Well, it used to be that a school would create instructional packages and send them by post. The student would read the packages, complete written assignments and then mail them back to the instructor. There was some opportunity to call the instructor on the telephone with questions on the course content, but direct interaction between student and instructor was fairly sparse and there was no interaction at all with other students. Now, with the help of the internet, distance learning has taken on a whole new life. Courses are provided online in their entirety, and most schools even provide technical support to help students download materials and assignments. Information is transferred immediately - no waiting on the mail delivery! And not only do some courses include internet bulletin boards and forums for students to discuss and compare notes on their subject, but some even provide live online chat groups and videoconferencing times which allow the students to communicate and creates a sense of community amongst learners.
Of course programs available are different from school to school and faculty to faculty. It's good for you to assess what you hope to achieve within the program and what your own limitations are when shopping for the best distance studies program fit for you. If you're a huge procrastinator, are you going to be able to complete your assignments without having to attend a classroom and have that pressure of being the only one to not hand something in? In distance learning you have to be the one to keep yourself on a schedule. Or are you quite self-motivated and independent? Then you are probably a great candidate for this sort of education! Do you see social interaction as a large part of your educational experiences? You may still find a program to suit you -- many distance learning programs require a portion of the work to be completed on-campus, particularly those with lab requirements. For example you may meet for one week of every academic year on campus to work on group activities and lectures. This may be a good opportunity for the more social student to make some contacts in real life that they can then maintain through the online learning community.
As technology advances, so too do our options for accessing information. With more and more information available online, the more it makes sense to find our education there as well. If you are motivated, computer-friendly and have a comfy pair of pyjamas, you may want to consider taking some distance learning courses in the coming years.