Distance Learning: Promises, Problems, and Possibilities

Distance Learning: Promises, Problems, and Possibilities

Distance learning has been present in academia, with institutions like 'School of the Air' offering young children in Australia quality education through radio and postal service. However, the coming of the internet accelerated the evolution of online distance learning. 

But due to the Covid-19 pandemic and school shutdown, remote learning has become a staple of learning at all academic levels. The relevance of e-learning has come to light because of its convenience in educating the younger generation. 

Today, you can think of distance learning 2021 as the process of attaining information from a tutor in a different physical location as yourself.

Without further ado, let's look at the problems, possibilities, and promises this evolving industry offers.

A Brief History Of Distance Learning 

As earlier stated, distance learning has been around for a while now. But how far back does this history go?

The first recorded use of distance learning dates back to 1728 when Caleb Phillips advertised private correspondence courses in shorthand in the Boston Gazette.  This form of personal correspondence meant that a student could get an assignment or questions from a tutor via mail and respond via the same medium. 

This learning process was tedious and time-consuming because everything went through the snail-paced postal service. So students had to wait weeks for a reply, and so did the tutors.

Distance learning later evolved during the ‘radio boom’ of the 1900s, with Pennsylvania State College taking the lead in 1922 by broadcasting courses on air. This revolution brought about the idea of learning from home, which allowed home-bound learners to obtain degrees from TV courses. 

With the advent of the internet today, e-learning sites for online education have become a significant aspect of education. As far back as 2006, 89% of U.S colleges provided the option for online learning, with programs like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which offer free education to people from low or middle-class backgrounds.

Standard definitions of distance learning

The definition of distance learning varies according to different scholars and thought leaders, but let’s discuss the standard definitions.

  • Distance learning is a process whereby students learn by themselves without face-to-face interaction with a tutor. Instead, they use e-learning sites and online educational tools like PDFs & online texts, webinars, audios, and videos.  
  • Distance learning a studying approach where students complete courses remotely, usually on online platforms. 

From the definitions above, distance education is a convenient and cost-effective means of attaining a degree because it allows students to learn at their own pace. 

The Promises And Problems Of Distance Learning 

Online distance learning holds promises of a better and convenient learning experience, but it also has several downsides. Let’s look at some of these promises and problems of distance education.

Quality of learning

Promises: Online learning provides a vibrant community and access to vast academic resources to improve students’ performance. You can easily reach out to your peers for assistance with school tasks. Since teachers now have proper e-learning teacher education, they can harness the power of digital learning tools better. Besides, employers now consider online degrees during recruitment.

Problems: Online education e-learning might have been around for a long time, but it still faces criticism by employers because ‘diploma mills’ give out diplomas to anyone who has the financial capacity to purchase one. This reason makes some employers skeptical about giving out jobs to employees with an online degree. Besides, the lack of on-site supervision reduces student performance and the quality of learning as a whole. 

Cost of implementation

Promises: The e-learning school education system offers a cheaper means of learning because most online institutions offer more affordable tuition. Some learning platforms offer student discounts and classroom packages to reduce the cost of using their resources. Students also save on transportation, books, accommodation, and other expenses. And due to e-learning creative education methods allowing students to learn at their own pace, most students graduate earlier than in a traditional school system, saving students expenses they would have otherwise spent on a conventional school system. 

Problems: Some students don’t have the financial capability to pay for subscriptions to gain access to online academic materials. Moreover, some free online courses charge exorbitant certification fees to get the diploma.

Use of technology

Promises: Technology is at the heart of e-learning education, and only tech-savvy students and teachers can harness the unlimited possibilities of these tools. Besides, the internet houses a wealth of educational materials in any course of interest. So, you can easily find any book you want with a quick online search.

These days there are apps designed to educate students in any field. Students can use these tools to understand their course of choice and share their achievements with their peers. In addition, students who struggle with a particular topic can take it slow, while those who are gifted can quickly go through a course without being held back.

Problems:  A significant setback in e-learning education is integrating virtual classroom tools into the entire academic infrastructure. Besides, some of these tools are incompatible with existing legacy systems, which necessitates a complete infrastructure modernization. Unfortunately, students often use these educational resources for non-academic activities, affecting their absorption of the material and overall academic performance.

Technical know-how

Promises: New distance learning tools force students and teachers to improve their technical skills.  And for students who undergo e-learning for special education, technology can make the whole process easy and efficient. Besides, contemporary digital learning platforms are easy to use and interactive. Even e-learning special education students can learn at their own pace with videos, infographics, and other media formats.

Problems: Since the current adoption of e-learning education tools came as a surprise to everyone, most institutions had no time to train their students and teachers to use them. Besides, some students have no understanding of cybersecurity, which leaves them vulnerable to malware attacks and cybercrime. 

Conclusions

We have come a long way from the traditional form of in-person learning, and the future looks bright with online education. With the current possibilities available on the internet, students can curate their curriculum to suit their lifestyle. Also, they no longer have to put themselves through the stress of campus commutes. However, students without extensive technical skills will struggle to meet up with their mates in school. Although e-learning comes with its promises, we must identify the potential problems hindering student’s academic performances.



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