Whether you want to start a new career or simply learn a new skill, distance learning makes it possible to fit education into your busy schedule. Before signing up for a class, though, consider four common disadvantages to distance learning and ways to avoid these potential pitfalls.
- No direct access to an instructor. While you can't stop for a chat after class, in most cases you actually have the most direct access to an instructor possible. You can email them at any time, at the moment you have a question or concern. Don't be afraid to "speak up" if you have a problem or you just want to discuss the reading more thoroughly. Some instructors may also share their office phone number with students who need more extensive assistance.
No set class time. While one of the great advantages of distance learning is flexibility, it may be difficult to complete your coursework when you don't have to prepare for a weekly class meeting. The most important attribute a student can bring to distance learning is self-motivation. If your teacher doesn't set deadlines throughout the week, create your own and stick to them. Don't fall into the trap of procrastination, and you'll be on your way to a successful educational experience.
Faceless classmates. You will still be part of a class with other students; the dynamic has just changed. The discussions and group projects normally accomplished during each class session take place through message board posts and e-mails sent at all hours of the day. In fact, you may be enrolled in a course with students from around the world, and you can draw on their unique perspectives and experiences to gain even more from your class. Whatever system of communication your program uses, make sure you check it frequently to stay on top of the latest discussions and news.
Technology problems. Most distance learning programs take advantage of computer technology, whether the entire course is available online, or students simply submit assignments through e-mail. You can help prevent potential problems by carefully considering any technology requirements before enrolling in a distance education course.
If you will be completing web-based assignments, make sure your browser is up to date and you have sufficient memory to smoothly operate your computer. In some cases you will need to learn a new program to complete an assignment. Don't wait until the day before the work is due to see if you understand the web interface or presentation program.
Technology problems aren't limited to computers, though. If a school sends you VHS tapes of lectures, but you only have a DVD player, that's a major problem that could have been prevented by reading the course description closely.