The Challenges of Distance Learning

Yesterday, Emerging EdTech posted an article titled 7 Challenges to be Aware of When Considering Distance Learning. The article’s author, K. Walsh, gave a great overview of the challenges experienced by many distance learners taking classes partly or fully online. It’s always important to keep in mind that although different forms of online learning may be flexible, they require the same amount of work and preparation (if not more) as a traditional, face-to-face class. Briefly, here are the challenges Walsh points out:

1. The learner needs to have readily available access to a computer and the internet. If the student does not have this, they could miss important announcements from the professor, have problems managing their time for the class, or even fall behind on assignments.

2. Distance learning courses require self-motivation. When taking hybrid or online courses, there is not always a professor pushing the student to do the work for the class or reinforcing the material. It is up to the student to play the role of the professor in these circumstances.

3. It can be difficult, if not impossible to find one-on-one time with your professor. Unless there are communication tools being used (such as Skype or chat), the student may have a hard time finding the help they need when there is limited contact with the professor.

4. Although distance learning is becoming far more mainstream and widely accepted, many people still have mixed feelings about it. It is not uncommon to find people who believe that traditional face-to-face courses are far more beneficial and legitimate than online or hybrid courses. This is not necessarily true.

5. Those who are more social may not enjoy distance learning because real-life social interactions are kept to a minimum. In online courses, most of the interactions a student has with their peers are through online communication tools, such as discussion boards or email.

6. Students enrolled in distance courses are often expected to find their own resources to aid class work. This applies to both academic material and tutorials or help with the online tools the student is using.

7. If the student is taking only online courses and has no opportunity to visit the campus, there is a lack of campus atmosphere. This plays a role in the students’ overall experience with the institution, and also helps with the feelings of support.

Despite these challenges, distance learning has many benefits and is an interesting alternative to the traditional college class experience. If these challenges don’t look like a problem to you, you will likely enjoy and succeed in a distance learning course. This is not to say that if any of these strike you as problematic you should not enroll in a distance learning course. Before completely rejecting the idea of distance learning, it is always important to do your research, talk to people you know who have experience with distance learning, and brush up on your weaker study/technology skills.