Distance learning is simply a mode of study that allows students to learn in the comfort of their own homes, rather than having to attend a regular brick and mortar classroom for lectures and seminars.
In these times, distance learning is becoming increasingly more relevant with regular universities opting for online lessons with their students to avoiding spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
There are certain universities like the University of London that offer many distance learning courses which may be your ideal mode of learning given the circumstances.
The real question is do these distance learning courses offer a better experience than your local brick and mortar university, and are they worth your time and money?
Lacking pastoral support
Usually when studying at a university, students are able to book face-to-face meetings with their tutors, academics, and supervisors to go over some issues they may have encountered when doing a task or researching a particular topic.
This is an extremely important part of higher education as it enables students to be independent learners while still receiving appropriate support when necessary.
Of-course with the majority of brick-and-mortar courses embracing online learning, face-to face meetings are less likely but even so, opting to study via regular classroom learning means you will always have proper access to your professor when help is required.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for most distance learning courses taught by established universities.
Their priorities are to their classroom students first and foremost. Whether they say it or not, students in the classroom will always have better access to lecturers than distance learning pupils.
Universities will often advertise that help is always around the corner, but with distance learning, emails with the module leader are likely to be your only point of contact.
You will rarely be assigned a personal tutor to bring concerns to, and you will definitely encounter some difficulty when trying to organise video calls for something other than an oral exam or assessment.
This open access to tutors is taken for granted on regular university courses however they are a rare sighting in the distance learning arena.
This is the case for a distance learning master’s provided by the University of London in Public Health for example.
Certificate not as well regarded
Distance learning courses like to give the impression that they are exactly the same as their regular classroom-learning counterparts.
The truth is that they are completely different courses even if the course material remains the same.
This is obvious since when you graduate, they include the mode of study in the certificate.
If you graduate via distance learning, expect to have the following included on your certificate:
Mode of Study: Distance Learning
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however you should understand that employers will typically favour a graduate with a regular degree over a distance-learning (DL) recipient IF they possess the same grades and level of experience.
If your level of experience is high, and your distance learning qualification is simply to meet a job application requirement them by all means, study via DL.
However if you are simply a new student with little to no experience in your arena, you are better off going to an actual university and associated with students and lecturers face to face.
The networking will help you learn of any work experience opportunities, and you will have many researchers to ask for references when you graduate.
The isolation that DL graduates may endure typically isn’t good for school leavers or young postgraduate students to experience as it stifles ones ability to find work upon leaving academia.
The delivery of course content is also slightly different, making for a poorer learning experience.
Less than desired learning experience online
Most universities and online schools have invested greatly on student learning experience, both online and in person.
Unfortunately, universities are still learning and improving their systems every day. Online learning isn’t perfect, but it’s getting there.
most students find that reading through vast amounts of text in an online virtual learning environment, then starting on a task with minimal briefs can be very challenging.
When you don’t have a supervisor to regularly call up and ask what exactly they want for a given task, it can be hard to research a topic and complete an assignment properly.
Discussing things with fellow students and with your tutor is what makes learning at a university that much more desirable than DL.
Often others will contribute ideas that you haven’t even considered, and give you a renewed perspective for an upcoming assignment.
Simply remaining in isolation and gathering information from books, references and online resources given to your from DL can definitely make your student experience less than desired.
Lacking student contact
As mentioned above, student contact can make or break your university experience.
Being able to bounce ideas off of your fellow students can give you a renewed perspective on a topic.
More than that, having someone to talk with when experiencing difficulty with an assignment is scientifically proven to improve your productivity.
Venting to a fellow student who understands your struggles is exactly the type of behaviour necessary to overcome these struggles.
It’s a form of therapy. This therapy is missing on many distance learning courses.
Some universities have the added option of putting you in contact with other students on the course which i highly reccommend.
The reason why most establishments won’t do this is because of data protection, and the fact that many distance-learning students are on part-time programs.
Part-time students who might be already busy working and taking care of a family might not want their details sharing with other students so this is unlikely to be a common occurence.
Less networking and job opportunities
As mentioned above, less contact with people means less ability to network with people and get their details.
You aren’t just at university to grab a degree and leave, you are here to meet as many people as possible, both student and professor.
Your instructors, professors and researchers are the people who will be writing you references, pointing you towards jobs to apply for, or even offering you research fellowships themselves.
Your fellow classmates are the people who may know of employers so simply keeping in touch with them will give you a sense of where to apply once you graduate.
Just because the university is prestigious doesn’t mean their distance learning course carries the same weight.
It is better to study directly at the institution and enjoy the student and lecturer interactions than to do a distance learning course and miss out on the pastoral support.
If distance-learning is your only option, however, go for it, and try and make the most of it.
But in my opinion, it’s better to study at a lower-ranking university in person, than do a distance learning course at a higher ranking university.
You might think that because of the ongoing pandemic, the regular universities might be exactly the same as distance learning right now.
It’s not. Universities are duty-bound to continue providing classroom lessons as much as possible, and if not, supplementing them with online discussions that allow for inclusion and appropriate support to all students.
Don’t sell yourself short, study at a proper institution and network as much as possible.
Get close with all your instructors and professors so they will be writing you glowing reviews and offering you solid jobs in no time!