Distance education or distance learning, as the term suggests, is the mode of obtaining education wherein the students don’t need to visit the college campus or school.
The educators and students may be based in different geographical locations.
The delivery formats vary depending upon the type of course you choose. These courses are self-paced; hence time-management and self-discipline form the backbone of success.
Due to the flexible study approach, students can continue with their studies while managing their work schedule and other responsibilities. Distance learning is offered at all levels – bachelor’s, master’s and PhD.
There has been an increase in the number of colleges and universities offering distance education programs due to an increase in the demand.
Here’s a list of the top advantages of distance education.
However, many are not in a position to take a sabbatical from work considering the opportunity cost (forgone salary while pursuing your education) involved.
Distance education serves as a good alternative to such risk-averse individuals who’d rather remain employed and pursue their studies during their free time, while continuing with their professional commitments.
This is the oldest method of distance education and used to be very popular before the internet and digital technology took over.
In correspondence courses, the books and study guides are sent across by post or courier to the students. Instructions and study material may be available on CD-ROMs as well.
The various assignments can either be posted or emailed across. This method continues to be used though newer and technologically advanced methods have gained popularity.
If the program requires the student to be present on campus for taking examinations or for any other purpose, then these programs are categorised as hybrid or blended learning.
Online programs use a variety of methods to deliver the content to students. These include video sessions, text-based content, animations, online quizzes, tests, assignments and webinars.
Through virtual (recorded or live) lectures and tutorials, students can access the course content from anywhere and anytime.
There are discussions boards, videoconferencing and online forums for students to connect with their educators and peer group.
Online degrees and courses are offered in many fields like finance, business administration, education, accounting, healthcare management, human resources, information technology, travel and tourism, project management, psychology, marketing and a lot of other subject areas.
A lot of top universities offer their programs in both the formats – on-campus as well as online.
Here are some of the universities providing online education:
MOOCs are courses delivered completely online. It comprises pre-recorded videos/lectures, study material quizzes, problem sets and projects. Coursera and edX are the top MOOC platforms. This includes master’s degrees, professional certificates, specialisations and various courses.
The range of topics is wide and includes management, programming, computer science, life sciences, psychology, robotics, human resources, public health, business English, digital marketing to name a few.
Top brand names like Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Columbia University, MIT, John Hopkins University participate in offering courses. The complete list of universities that provide degrees/courses/specialisations is a very long one.
Well-known Indian institutions like ISB (Indian School of Business), IIT, Bombay, IIM (Indian Institute of Management), Bangalore also provide MOOCs. Courses are also provided by companies like Microsoft and Google also provide MOOCs.
Enrolment is open to all and a lot of content is usually free. However, if you wish to receive a certificate on completion of the course, you may be required to pay a fee. The fee varies depending upon the course you choose.
A few specialisations have a 7 day free trial period after which a monthly fee would be applicable. Courses include auto-graded peer-reviewed assignments.
Blended or hybrid learning combines both online learning along with face-to-face classroom learning. The online components such as videos and presentations can be accessed online from anywhere. Bothe these components i.e. online and classroom study complement each other, rather than being a repetition of the other.
For example, the Tepper School of Business (Carnegie Mellon University) offers an online hybrid MBA.
It comprises of synchronous classes with live sessions during the evenings twice a week, asynchronous classes with pre-recorded lectures which can be completed as per your convenience, access weekends held at various locations six times a year which would give you a chance to network with classmates and alumni.
Though the general perception is that distance learning and open universities are one and the same, it’s not true. Distance learning is a mode of education whereas open universities are universities which are open to all.
This means that the entry requirements are minimal and everyone can enrol irrespective of previous qualification, work experience or age.
The courses have a flexible completion schedule. Such open universities have their presence across cities worldwide. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is the biggest open university in the world with an enrolment of almost 4 million.
Open University of China comes next with registrations reaching almost 3.6 million. Open University in the UK is also a leading name.
Though distance education offers students the option of connecting and building relations with peers and tutors through online forums, chats, videoconferencing, the interaction and networking opportunities would be limited.
Studying in isolation may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Having a dedicated study space with minimum distraction, remaining focussed, being committed and timely completion of the course may also be an issue.
Getting immediate feedback or clarifications may not be possible as in a traditional classroom.
Sometimes, it may be difficult to convince employers who may have their own perceptions about the value of distance education. Read more here: How do employers view online degrees
Some advanced degrees such as an international MBA may or may not recognise the distance degree. Read more on that here: MBA programs that accept correspondence courses & distance education degrees.
Firstly, before deciding to enrol in a distance education program, you need to know that since you’d be studying independently (in the absence of a classroom environment without the continuous presence of a mentor), you need to be self-motivated to go on with the program and aim for a timely completion.
Find out more about the program and how the particular course or program would add value to your profile and the various accredited institutions offering it.
Check the reputation of the course of your choice, the fee structure and the mode of delivery, so that you can narrow down the options that are truly suited to meet your career requirements. Make sure you are comfortable with the delivery format.
Work out how you’d be able to manage your time efficiently to do justice to both your daily work commitments as well as the program you’re pursuing.
If possible, try to connect with alumni or current students who’d be able to give you some genuine feedback about the program. Once you’re all set and your mind is made up, go ahead and get enrolled. Good Luck!
Harvard online certificate courses (Interview with HBX Executive Director)