Online Distance Learning at Universities in Europe
The digital age has not only made e-learning feasible, it has made it a preferred style of learning for students throughout the world. Through distance learning, students worldwide have access to a network of European institutions that offer a large selection of programs in different languages and give students the flexibility to earn their diplomas in the classroom, entirely online or through a blend of classroom and distance coursework.
Although the concept of virtual education is not new, the idea of offering university-level coursework via the Internet did not start gaining popularity until the late 1990's. In 1997, you could hear the phrase "virtual university" used in the United Kingdom where several universities began experimenting with the idea of distance learning. Since then, more than 10 virtual campuses have opened in the United Kingdom alone. In response to the growth, the European Commission came up with the phrase "open and distance learning" (ODL) to help define this new type of education. (Reference 2)
Organizations such as the European Association of Distance Learning Universities (EADTU) and the European Distance Universities Contact (EduContact) provide resources and assistance to students who are researching e-learning options in Europe. Researching online programs through reputable organizations such as these help ensure that you will be receiving the best possible education for your money. The EADTU was founded in 1987 and has since grown to almost 30 members in 24 European countries. As a strong proponent of distance education, the EADTU sits at the forefront of e-learning in Europe, helping to promote e-learning and maintain best practices throughout the industry. (Resource 1) On the EduContact website, you can search for courses at participating universities based on language and the type of diploma you are pursuing as well as view information regarding course prerequisites and expectations.
There are many benefits to pursing online education that cannot be found in a traditional academic setting. In addition to the flexibility to study when and wherever you would like, students are more involved in the e-learning process and have greater access to course instructors and tutors than students on campus have. For many students, having the ability to personalize their education means that they are better able to learn the course material. (Reference 3, pg. 71)
According to a 2004 report on European e-learning Initiatives, only 34 percent of distance universities in Europe were accredited by the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), a system that allows the transferring of credits from one institution to another. Of the rest, 72 percent expected to meet ECTS accreditation standards in the future, though no specific timeline was given as to when the accreditation would take place. Depending on your educational goals, the ability to transfer credits between universities may be an important consideration when deciding which school to attend. (Reference 3, pg. 68-69)
Distance learning has improved dramatically over the years, eliminating the isolation and technologically-driven learning style that was so common in the early days of e-learning. Instead of being homebound and dependent entirely on electronic materials to learn, students are able to collaborate on projects with their peers, have direct access to their instructors and utilize learning materials offline. This shift to a more learner-centric style of education means that you will feel a stronger connection to the classroom. (Reference 4, pg. 1-2)