Distance Learning Choices

Once you’ve decided that distance learning is the best way for you to obtain your degree, you need to decide which type of online learning experience is best suited to your needs. Campus based classes are those most individuals are familiar with.

Students have set schedules and syllabi, tests and homework are as mandatory as class participation, and study/project groups may be required. The advantage to this mode of learning primarily affects those inspired by classroom discussion and peer feedback.

Distance learning is a broad term referring to any type of learning where the student and teacher are geographically separated. Depending upon the institution, length of matriculation will vary, as will the channels of communication between the student and instructor.

Correspondence learning was the first true distance learning program and one that many traditional institutions rely upon today. It is also the most flexible of the distance learning avenues. Students are either mailed a syllabus from their instructor or download it from the school’s website. The student is required to purchase books from the online university book store, a book retailer (such as www.amazon.com), or download an ebook/pdf file. There are no deadlines to meet as to when assignments must be turned in, which is traditionally done via snail mail. There is traditionally no interaction between students in correspondence learning classes. Additionally, most correspondence class instructors grade their students upon their coursework, so there are no actual tests. Correspondence learning is asynchronous, meaning students are given leave to learn the material at their own pace.

Online classes offer all the normal activities of a traditional learning environment, but use course presentation software materials (such as BlackBoard, FirstClass, or WebCT) instead. This software incorporates email, discussion groups, instructor-created handouts, and various multimedia channels. Occasionally, podcasts and tele-learning technologies may be included. All assignments are turned in virtually, and class discussions take place via the web and have mandatory logon requirements (ex: five posts a week). However, tests may require a physical presence on campus and use of a proctor during your exam.

A Web-enhanced course meets during prearranged dates and times, and utilizes technologies such as posting boards and instant messaging for class participation. Contributing to these discussions is vital to your overall grade through posts of insightful observation, lab results, questions for the instructor, etc. Assignments are given specific deadlines and are typically turned in via email. Tests may also be posted online and may or may not have a time limit.

Hybrid courses combine both web-enhanced technologies with traditional learning, requiring students to participate in online discussion and attend on-site classes. These classes are typically offered when the university lacks enough classroom space for their course loads. Sometimes, when the content of the course includes media or expensive lab experiments, a hybrid course allows access to these outlets via the online classroom whereas fewer would be able to participate otherwise. Seeing as how these sessions have strict attendance policies, this is the most stringent of the distance learning methods.

Depending on the type of learner you are, the differences of these various channels of virtual learning will affect your overall educational experience.

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