Importance of Distance Learning

Distance learning enables students to access their courses from almost any location.
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Distance learning is rapidly becoming an alternative to traditional classrooms. The U.S. Department of Education reported in 2011 that about 20 percent of all students enrolled in post-secondary schools take at least one distance learning course. Students can benefit from the flexibility that comes with distance learning, and for students who don't have the time or money to attend traditional schools, distance learning can provide a path to higher education.

1 Geographic Flexibility

Distance learning can increase access to education for students who aren't located near a school or who can't afford to travel to class daily. Even commuting from work to school on a daily basis can cost a significant amount of gas money and eat up time that the student could be earning money at work. Distance learning can increase opportunities for students across the globe, ensuring that students don't have to choose a school based solely on its location.

2 Decreased Cost

Online learning is less expensive, because students aren't helping to pay for a brick and mortar building or an expensive university campus. Because teachers have more flexibility with scheduling, they may be able to conduct more classes, which means more revenue for the school without an increased charge to the student. For students who can't afford a traditional college education or who struggle to afford transportation costs, distance education can be a powerful game changer. At Georgia Perimeter College, for example, a school that offers both traditional and distance courses, distance learners pay about 70 percent of what traditional students pay in tuition and fees per credit hour if they qualify for in-state tuition.

3 Time Flexibility

Distance-based learning offers more flexibility to students in terms of how and when they take classes. Many distance-based courses allow students to use several different learning modules, such as online message boards, chat rooms, video conferences and recordings of lectures, making distance learning a highly customizable educational option. Students can choose when they do their work, and at some schools, may even be able to attend classes, via videotaped lectures, at various times rather than following a set schedule. Similarly, some schools permit students to take courses without using a traditional semester or quarter-based schedule. At these schools, students can enroll at any time and can begin classes when it is convenient.

4 Student Diversity

Not all students thrive in a traditional lecture setting, and some students may even be made anxious by large groups. Distance learning enables students from many walks of life to attend school. A critically ill student, for example, might attend his classes from his hospital bed, while a student with severe anxiety might be less intimidated by distance courses. For students with physical disabilities, distance learning means they can avoid navigating a challenging college campus.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.