Understanding Distance Education

Help Center Understanding Distance Education

Distance education differs in key ways from classroom teaching. To better prepare your distance education course, it may help to think about some of the differences between distance education and more traditional, classroom-based education. Below are some aspects of distance learning you may want to consider as you prepare your distance learning course.

Understand the distance learning environment

Distance learning, any course taken outside a classroom environment, may include the use of a number of media to facilitate learning. Because a distance learning class generally does not include a scheduled classroom meeting, the environment differs significantly from the classroom. Although distance education is still a transaction between you and the students, the relationship changes. The majority of your time and energy during a traditional course is devoted to presenting the content through lectures and demonstrations. In distance learning, much (if not all) of the content is prepared--and in some cases, provided to the students--in advance, and embodied in printed materials, audio or videotapes, Web pages, or other media. Once the course begins, the majority of your time will be spent facilitating, as students interact with the material and with each other.

Consider the distance learning population

Distance learners as a population differ in key ways from more traditional classroom students. Many distance learners are adults for whom campus attendance is difficult due to circumstances such as employment, family responsibilities, military service, or disability. Many are seeking academic credit in pursuit of a degree. Some on-campus students enroll in distance learning courses as well because of scheduling conflicts with classroom-based courses. Distance learners may also be mid-career professionals seeking continuing education, workers requiring a credential to make job change possible, students with physical or learning disabilities, or geographically isolated students. However, the audience for distance education is growing rapidly and, as a result, the population of distance learning students is changing.

Allow adequate time for planning

Differences in the way that content is presented in a distance learning course will change the amount of time that you invest in different aspects of teaching. These changes make careful planning and time management essential. Our organize and manage your course guide may help you think about ways you can manage your time effectively. As you begin planning your distance learning course, allow enough time for planning course materials and learning new technologies before the course begins.

Plan for communication at a distance

Building a community in a distance learning environment can be challenging. Effective communication among participants is key to successful learning in any instructional situation. It is particularly important in an environment in which there is no face-to-face interaction. Online communication can help distance learners feel less isolated, gain exposure to diverse opinions and experience, and work on collaborative exercises. Fortunately, distance instructors now have a wide variety of tools with which to build a classroom community even when the students never meet face-to-face. Our encourage student discussion guide suggests ways in which you can encourage student interactivity from a distance.

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