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Distance Education Overview

What is distance education?

A distance learning class is one in which the students are geographically separated from the instructor. Distance education courses use a variety of teaching methods, strategies, and technologies. There are Interactive Videoconferencing (ITV) courses, Online courses (taught using the Internet), Telecourses (videotaped lessons) and ‘Hybrid’ courses that combine several different technologies with a traditional face-to-face component. For example, you may find that some distance education courses require students to visit the college campus for a face-to-face orientation before the class begins, and that many ITV courses have a large online component.

What’s so different about a distance learning course?

The biggest difference is that you must take a much more active role in your own education. In the distance education environment, you will not be able to sit back passively and expect to pass the course. To get the most out of the course, you must be able to communicate effectively with fellow students and the instructor. Whatever communication technology is being used — ITV, Internet, or Telecourses — you must be prepared to participate; you will not be allowed to "lurk" on the edges of the class activity. Distance learning is not the same as face-to-face instruction, so the instructor and the students must work harder to create a good interactive environment.

"Attending" an online class may mean participating in online discussion groups, checking your email, or any number of other online activities. Whether you're taking an online or ITV course, you should be prepared to "attend" class regularly so you can participate in the class activities; in addition to perhaps violating attendance polices of particular schools, absences mean you will lose the benefit of interacting with your peers and instructor.

Technical difficulties do arise in distance learning courses, but don’t use the technology as an excuse for a lack of progress. You must work with the technology and use it to your advantage. Remember, the skills developed in the distance education environment—becoming a more self-directed learner and being able to use new technologies—will give you a significant advantage in the workplace.

The Big Three MYTHS about distance learning

1. Taking courses via distance education is a quick and easy way to learn.
Nope – in many cases it’s harder – in MOST cases it’s harder. You are in control – which means you have to be disciplined, self-motivated, and honest with yourself about whether you’re disciplined and self-motivated!

 2. Online courses are self-paced. I can do all the work the last week of the semester and still pass.
Nope – first, not all online courses are self-paced; many follow the same semester guidelines as traditional classes. Second, there is a whole lot more work involved in an online class – no way you could get it all done - or done well! Be realistic.

3. I need to have highly advanced computer skills.
Nope – this is usually not the case. You need to be able to
use email, save files to disk, open files, surf the web; basic computer skills are usually all you'll need, but check with each instructor to make sure.

Is distance education right for you?

Many students find distance learning a challenging and rewarding educational experience. However, distance learning courses are not for everyone. Depending on their emotional and intellectual maturity level, learning styles, and work habits, some students may need the face-to-face contact and instructor proximity found in the traditional classroom.

Characteristics of a successful distance education student

Regardless of the delivery method (ITV, Internet, Telecourse) a successful distance education student must:

  • Be self-directed
  • Be resourceful
  • Be assertive - if you don’t know something, ask!
  • Communicate and participate
  • Be respectful of the other sites/students
  • Be comfortable with the various technologies used
  • Meet the necessary technical requirements and be comfortable with the equipment
  • Have the time and resources to dedicate to college-level coursework
  • Be comfortable with the written word and use of e-mail as a communication form
  • Be able to prioritize responsibilities and work independently
  • Ask for assistance when needed to build academic and social support systems

Learning styles

To be successful in your distance education course you need to have a very good understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a learner. You need to ask yourself how you learn most effectively. You may have to: learn how you learn & learn how to learn

For example, it would be very useful for you to know if you are a visual learner, an auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner:

Visual learners are those who prefer to learn from print material such as text and graphics; things they can see.
Auditory learners are those who prefer to learn from listening to speech or other sounds; things they can hear.
Kinesthetic learners are those who prefer to learn from handling objects or performing a task; something they can touch.

Knowing your preferred learning style means you can determine how best to study for exams and quizzes. It will also help you to understand why sometimes you don’t grasp some things as easily as your classmates do.

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