Distance Learning and Online Education Essay

Is Distance Learning as Effective as Traditional Classroom Learning?

The given essay speaks of the advantages of distance learning and compares it to the traditional classroom learning. There are the advantages of distance learning both for students, teachers and educational establishments. However, the paper also speaks of the disadvantages of distance learning. The paper summarizes all negative and positive sides of distance learning. Moreover, the essay represents the arguments for and against it. The data used while writing the paper gives the answer to the question whether distance learning is as effective as a traditional one or not.

A noticeable leap in the development of communicative means allows developing new types of education, including distance learning more actively. It will create the conditions for the achievement of the educational results adequate to new requirements of labor market by students (irrespective of the place of their accommodation or the social status of their families). At present, the need for the use of the Internet resources and technologies does not raise any doubts. A practical experience visually and convincingly showed that the application of the Internet in education and management could lead to the substantial increase of its availability and quality. Being a fast developing form of interactive learning, distance learning has a lot of advantages if compared to the traditional classroom learning and should be considered as a decent alternative to it.

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In their article “Distance education of classroom instruction for continuing education: who retains more knowledge?” Connie Schardt and her colleges state that distance learning has appeared as an alternative for the provision of the opportunities to receive education for working health professionals. There were a lot of advantages of distance learning such as a flexible schedule, absence of travel expenses and a constant access to Internet. Distance learning gives a lot of possibilities for students as well as for tutors. For the students learning on the distant bases, there is no difference in the form of education as innovative teaching strategies are aimed at the easy modification of the learning behavior of students, not losing their learning skills of traditional learning (Schardt 2002).

Despite the fact that training is carried out not in classes, in many respects distance learning is similar to the traditional one. First of all, students have access to tutors and receive feedback from them. Video – conferences and e-mail are the assisting tools in it. Secondly, students have an access to the same educational resources; the programs of training very seldom differ and access to libraries is also free. Thirdly, students are full members of communities of graduates who render assistance in job search (Allen & Seaman 2010).

Efficiency of the distance learning is defined by the combination of five key factors allowing students to keep more information, to increase awareness, to achieve the best results of work and to increase the coefficient of profitability of the invested capital. These factors include interactivity, memorability, flexibility in use, tutorship and accessibility. The introduction of interactivity into the process of distance learning makes a student to achieve the maximum result. Memorability provides a better understanding of the studied material for distance learners. Flexibility presupposes the possibility to teach distance students with different level of background knowledge as well as with different capabilities. Assistance or tutorship helps distance learners to minimize the number of questions and problems connected with the studying of material. Accessibility allows students to study any time suitable for them anywhere they want. The whole learning material is available online (Hassendurg 2009).

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There is an ambiguous attitude to distance learning. Despite its increasing popularity, distance learning is treated with caution and mistrust. In comparison with traditional classroom learning, distance learning has much more ample opportunities, and, therefore, it can be treated not only as distance learning, but also as a public one.

Earlier studies of distance learning concluded that these technologies were not significantly different from regular classroom learning in terms of effectiveness. Policymakers reasoned that if online instruction is no worse than traditional instruction in terms of student outcomes, then online education initiatives could be justified on the basis of cost efficiency or need to provide access to learners in settings where face-to-face instruction is not feasible (U.S. Department of Education 2010).

There are the following advantages of this type of education. The geographical independence is the main advantage of distance learning. Everybody has the possibility to receive education in any part of the world, having access to the World Wide Web. Moreover, distance education is cheaper than traditional education “in university”. It is an undoubted plus, in particular in the period of economic instability. Moreover, students can save on accommodation and transportation. Besides, distance learning is also beneficial for stakeholders, as they save on renting classrooms. The reasonable time management is another characteristic feature of distance learning as it is an opportunity to study and work. In case a student does not work, it is a good opportunity to find work and to acquire experience up to graduation.

The systematic control over a student’s activity is another advantage. At distance learning each student has own network teacher (tutor) and the communication process is conducted via the website of a distance school, e-mail, phone or fax. Moreover, the access to information prepared systemically in time is constantly open. Each student is registered, has own login, password and personal electronic mail, used by tutors for sending learning materials. Despite the widely spread opinion that distance learning is much easier than usual one, the monitoring and controlling function of such a type of education is much stricter than at traditional education. Tutor is not only a specialist in his sphere of knowledge, possessing the methodological skills of teaching, but also a psychologist. Tutor can support a child, persuading him to go the chosen way and to achieve success. Students trained by a distance-learning program, are certified two times a year each semester. The grade is put by the tutor according to the results of the educational activity and transfers the documentation of the student to the appropriate department of educational institutions (Hassendurg 2009).

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Distance learning takes into consideration the individual abilities of students. Moreover, there is a fast feedback from a tutor. Distance learning students have opportunity to dose communication with a training material and a tutor, asking him the questions when required. A high motivation and the developed informative abilities of students are peculiar to distant learning as only in this case they can study in an interactive mode. Distance learning has more individual character than traditional one, as a student can develop own learning schedule. A student chooses the educational rate himself, repeating the separate lessons several times or skipping separate units. Besides, the assessment system is objective and does not depend on a tutor in distance learning system. It is impossible to grade by taking into consideration the personal qualities of a student (Allen & Seaman 2010).

A large k-125 of experimental and quasi-experimental studies met the established inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis, and provided effect sizes, clearly demonstrating that in 70 percent of the cases, students taking courses by distance education outperformed their student counterparts in the traditionally instructed courses (Shachar & Neumann 2010).

The distance learning system opens broad possibilities for teachers and tutors. In a distance learning the role of a teacher changes and his opportunities extend. This form of education allows teachers not to waste time for the routine of educational process. Thus, a teacher decides himself what exactly should be considered as a routine, whether it is a check of knowledge or reading the same course. The distance learning systems allow automating practically everything, except the identity of a teacher. Moreover, teachers do not need to leave their houses both for attending lessons and for the preparation of the learning materials. It gives the opportunity for a wider range of teachers, like women-teachers, having small children and for old teachers, having health problems. Besides, a flexible schedule opens for all teachers of distance learning ample opportunities for combining jobs as obligatory presence hours can be reduced to a minimum. However, distance learning demands additional efforts for the development of its technologies from teachers.

Despite all the above-mentioned advantages of distance learning, the skeptical attitude towards it still remains. Is the distance learning as effective as traditional one? Will distance-learning students have the same employment opportunities with the students, following the traditional learning system?

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Among the disadvantages of distance learning it is possible to enumerate the following points:

  • The absence of the legislative base and standards and a lack of the reliable juridical status;
  • The absence of internal communication between students and tutors; this psychological factor can negatively influence a training material;
  • The necessity of the student’s ability to self-education and high motivation to study; these conditions are vital for a successful distance learning;
  • A continuous requirement to the Internet access and shortage of the electronic resources;
  • Shortage of experts, specializing on distance learning;
  • A lack of visual communication and control. (Ni 2010).

The attitude of society to distance learning system is an important factor that should be taken into consideration by the distance-learning applicant. Not all directors or HR managers are ready to perceive the specialist after distance learning university as an equal to the colleagues educated by the traditional learning system. The audience of the students trained by the distance learning programs is not limited to a territorial framework, but at employment the graduates who plan to live and work in geographical proximity to the distance learning establishment have more chances. However, popular distance learning universities all over the world give equal opportunities for all graduates, irrespective of the form of learning they chose. At present, the distance-learning model is in the process of its formation and promotion. It has just acquired the technological base, allowing competing with the traditional learning model.

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The critics of the distance-learning model point the fact that the admission requirements for the distance learning programs are much lower, than those for the traditional learning model. It is unambiguously possible to make a conclusion that distance learning is admitted all over the world as an alternative way of professional development and improvement of the earlier received education. According to the results of the research conducted by the US Department of Education (2009), the students trained according to the programs of distance learning show the best results and competence, if compared to their “colleagues” at universities and colleges (U.S. Department of Education 2009).

Summing up, it is possible to say that distance learning is a good alternative to the traditional education in the conditions of an economic crisis, and also for professional development. The differences between traditional and distance learning are considerable, and they can become the cause of failures in successful mastering of the skills, obtained during the distance learning. Despite it, the knowledge received during the educational process both in distance and traditional ways of learning are equally valuable and demanded in the professional practice. Only individual qualities and life situations compose the determining factor for this or that form of education. Moreover, information technologies open big opportunities for the educational system. Distance learning leads to more democratic relations of a student and a teacher, releases a lot of time, assumes an individual approach and gives opportunities to come back to the passed material. The most important fact is that a new source of information – Internet resource – appears and brings a lot of perspectives for distance learning.