Distance education is a type of formal learning in which the student and the instructor are not in the same place at the same time. It may be synchronous or asynchronous. If distance education is synchronous, instruction is given at a particular time and, usually, at specific locations. If distance education is asynchronous, instruction can be received by students wherever and whenever they desire, as long as they have access to the Internet or, in the case of correspondence education, to the mail.
Distance education can be accomplished through one or more of the following means:
- mail and post offices;
- telephones and voicemail;
- one-way or interactive radio, television, satellite, audio, or video transmission;
- video cassette recorders (VCRs) or CD-ROMs;
- electronic mail (e-mail) and the Internet (e.g., Web-based learning).
Many distance education programs also require occasional attendance by the student on the campus of the college or university offering the program.
Why Choose Distance Education?
Students enroll in distance education programs for many reasons:
- logistical: they cannot attend a campus away from their home;
- familial: they have child-care or elder-care obligations;
- professional: they cannot get away from their current job in order to enhance their future possibilities;
- geographic: the program may be offered at a location that is not feasible to attend for economic, cultural, or political reasons.
Skills Needed to Succeed
Experience shows that those most likely to succeed in a distance education program are students who like to work independently and who have some degree of privacy. With today's heavy reliance on computers and the Internet, certain technical skills also are required. More than a few students do not complete their distance education programs or transfer to more traditional campus-based degree programs, because they do not have the necessary skills and a suitable working environment. Potential distance learners should do an honest and thoughtful assessment of themselves in relation to the requirements for the program. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I self-motivated and an independent learner?
- Am I someone who can work consistently, or do I tend to put everything off until the last minute?
- Does my schedule truly permit me to devote the necessary hours to study?
- Do I have a place at home or at work that I can claim as my own for extended periods of study and communication with the program? Will family members or others around me respect my need to spend time on my own?
- Do I have the technical skills needed to participate fully in the program that interests me? If the program is conducted by computer, do I have the necessary computer skills to complete the program successfully, or do I need to learn how to use e-mail and the Internet first?
- Do I have someone to assist me if I experience technical problems? (Any distance education program accredited in the United States should be able to help you through its "help desk," which you can access through e-mail, but it is also useful to know someone close to home whom you can call on for assistance.)