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7 Challenges To Be Aware Of When Considering Distance Learning

by Kelly Walsh on May 4, 2011

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Despite online learning courses being a great option for many, there are some down sides to be aware of.

These challenges can affect your chances of success, so it’s important to be aware of them before getting started with online education.

These factors include …

  • Online courses require the use of both the internet and a computer, so those that embark on such must have access to these, and knowledge of appropriate skills and technologies, in order to complete the program. If you are not computer-literate or don’t have ready access to appropriate technology, then online education may not be the best route to take (although many of today’s face to face courses require the use of these tools these as well, just not as extensively).
  • If you require an extra push to complete work, you may struggle with online classes as there is no one there to tell you when to do the work, and no pre-determined timetable to stick to. You have to be very self-motivated.
  • Not being able to complete one-to-one sessions with a tutor. Since everything is conducted online there are usually few if any chances available to talk with a teacher face to face (unless there are opportunities provided for communicatoin via tools like Skype).
  • Even though online courses are growing in both status and popularity there are still certain perceptions and reputations attached to this particular method of learning. Fortunately, they have become increasingly accepted and are gradually becoming mainstream.
  • Those that are very social may not prefer this particular learning method, as distance learning offers little if any social interaction. You will probably only interact with classmates via email, chat rooms, or discussion groups.
  • There is little support available to students - those partaking in online courses are often expected to find their own resources in regards to completing assignments and other online work.
  • There is no campus atmosphere, which many consider a major part of the college experience. Despite distance-education being extremely flexible, it is a rather “solo” experience.

If you feel you are prepared to take on these challenges, or that some of them are not an issue for you, well then what are you waiting for … enroll in an online course today! If, on the other hand, you are concerned about some of these challenges, consider yourself forewarned and forearmed.

Do you have any other considerations you think should be listed here? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts!

This post was co-written with guest writer Bridget Knapp, a freelance writer covering the converging worlds of technology and education.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
5 Emerging Tech Trends for K-12 Education, from The Journal
The Changing Dynamic of Online Education
Future of Education Technology (post category)

About 

Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer, and an adjunct faculty member, at The College of Westchester in White Plains, NY and is the founder and author of EmergingEdTech.com. As an education technology advocate, he frequently delivers presentations on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. Walsh is also an author, and online educator, periodically running Flipped Class Workshops online. His latest eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book was published in September, 2013 and is available here. In his spare time Walsh also writes, records, and performs original (and cover) songs (look for "K. Walsh" on iTunes or Amazon.com or check out his original song videos on here on YouTube ).

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

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online education May 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Online education is the best for people who live way out far in the country, it really does open up doors!

Parker Boyack May 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I took my first online class a few semesters ago and I was surprised at how easy it was. I tend to procrastinate and I thought it would be hard to stay on top of my work but I ended up getting an A in the class! I agree that there are downfalls to online education but almost everyone in the younger generation should be able to do well.

K. Walsh May 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Thanks for the informed and empassioned comment Cathy! I think by saying these courses have no timetable, Bridget is referring to the lack of “seat time” in a traditional classroom, on a clearly defined schedule. I certainly agree that many online teachers are trying and evolving new methods for bringing social learning online, with increasing success. To your latter point regarding the resources available in these courses, I would add that if online instructors collect a respository of student knowledge in a courses offered repeatedly over time, they can build a truly unique and relevant pool of resources.

Buy Essays May 5, 2011 at 7:32 am

Great… As an online educator , i believe that its very useful for me ….

Cathy Downes May 4, 2011 at 7:54 am

While I broadly concur that Ms. Knapp’s 7 challenges are genuine, as an online educator, I believe that at some of us are working in a very focused way to addres a number of these challenges. At its simplest, I would contest Ms. Knapp’s observation that online courses do “not have a pre-determined time table to stick to”. I have not encountered an online education course that has not set quite particular dates for the delivery of results, tests, papers, discussion docs, tasks, etc. Just as face-to-face students, online students have to plan their time to deliver the results asked of them.
In respect of social interaction, there are a number of things that educators are doing to support students feeling part of a learning community with responsibilities and obligations to their fellow students and their fellow students to them. In my courses, we do a lot of ground-work with the students from the first week to get beyond “bio/CV introductions”. We engage the students in a lot of group projects, stress shared situational awareness with them, so they appreciate the life challenges, family circumstances, etc of their co-learners. In my class, we encourage telephone conversations, setting up coms bridges for teleconferences, using our facilities in Second Life to have “virtual meetings”, etc.
I would also contest Ms. Knapps’s view that online students have “little support…and are expected to get their own resources…” In fact, I would note that in the case of the courses I teach online, the “rich media resource pool” that is developed by faculty and students for each session is far more substantial than what face-to-face students intersect with. We both provide and co-create with our students new materials, and provide access to podcasts, webcasts, video, URLs, charts, diagrams, graphics, text, downloadable readings, etc. In fact, I would suggest that many online educators are actively working to leverage the social/interactive/read-write web to significantly enhance the online learner’s learning experience.

Ms. Knapp is perhaps more focused on where e-learning started, as opposed to where e-learning is going.

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