Distance learning, as it is known to many students, is the online learning and teaching programs offered by world class institutions of learning. Unlike traditional classroom education, students are virtually enrolled in their programs and respective classes online. Statistical data taken from the leading institutions of higher learning in the United States and United Kingdom show that the number of students registering for distance learning programs is increasing day and night. In the United States alone, the number of students taking courses through distance education has since risen from 3.9 million in 2010 to approximately 8.9 million students in 2013. Whereas distance learning is applauded for its inherent ability to reduce illiteracy amongst the Americans through promotion of cheaper internet enabled computer programs, the mode of education has been found out to compromise the quality of learning outcomes.
Although traditional classroom education remains the mode of learning which is widely practiced and offered by most of the institutions such as colleges and universities across the world, distance learning is increasingly becoming more popular in the age of information technology. Distance learning is no longer an alternative mode of learning to traditional education but a preferred mode of learning across the world. The most recent survey conducted among college students revealed that 80% of the college and university students are in favor of distance learning because of its flexibility. The subsequent popularity of distance learning is attributed to fact it is the only mode of education that gives students freedom to choose the convenient time of the night or day to take classes. Unlike the subjective traditional face-to-face education with its fixed teaching and learning schedule, the highly individualized distance learning gives students full freedom on when and what they want to learn.
Secondly, distance learning reaches the highest number of students within the shortest period of time as opposed to the traditional face-to-face learning. The number of students graduating from various institutions of education after undertaking distance learning programs is increasing every year. Statistics show that about there are about 9 million students registered for various distance learning programs in the United States last year and the figures are on an upward trend. The flaring number of students opting for the distance learning implies that larger segments of illiterate populations are effectively reached. Consequently, the mode of learning has proven to the most effective and convenient method of combating higher rates of illiteracy across the continents. Apart from its accessibility, multitudes of learners successfully complete their courses because distance learning programs are far cheaper than compared to traditional learning programs.
Suffice it to say, there is substantial evidence that distance learning has proven to be more effective tool in promoting literacy amongst the adult populations. It is more suitable for the adult learners who are either in full time employment or committed in their domestic duties thus, cannot manage to fit in traditional mode of education with fixed schedule. With the full knowledge that the internet-enabled mode of learning takes place in the comfort of living rooms, many mature learners find distance learning more palatable because it upholds their confidentiality and privacy. In this regard, the electronic mode of learning renders education a private affair compared to traditional education that makes education a public affair. It therefore goes without saying that distance learning has adequately counteracted shame that most adult students face in their efforts to access education programs in traditional institutions.
Most importantly, distance learning programs are designed to meet the diverse needs of learners like no other. For instance, the programs are scheduled to ensure that learners who are in active job with tight work schedule, parents taking care of their children, and persons living outside the catchment areas of the learning institutions can create time and study at their own convenient time. Both the young and old; men and women; the rich and poor are satisfactorily accommodated by the distance learning education programs. In addition to this, distance learning educational programs are designed in a way that individual learners can study at their pace; students are at liberty to start, break and resume personalized studies at their own discretion. This rare phenomenon gives distance learning an upper hand above traditional classroom face-to-face learning.
Despite the numerous gains and advantages that come with the distance education on the students' side, it has been established that learning at home behind an internet-enabled computer cannot replace face to face education existing in institutions of higher learning such as universities and colleges. On many occasions, educational experts have raised their concern on the effectiveness of distance learning on pedagogical delivery of complex concepts especially in science-oriented subjects such as chemistry and mathematics. According to the latest research finding, distance learning is limited to the kind of courses they offer to students. For instance, technical courses such as engineering, applied technology and mechanics that require the instructors to impart psychomotor and manipulative skills to learners could not be delivered via distance learning programs. The much desired delivery of technical courses of this nature is therefore an exclusive reserve of the traditional face-to-face education. At the end of it all, It emerges that traditional face-to-face education produces better results in technical subjects that requires practical skills.
It has been proven over and over again that there are a lot of difficulties in self-directed learning which is demanded by the online education. Many a times, students undertaking online courses do not have set schedule for their studies thus, leaving much room for distracters that altogether work to the detriment of students' academic performance. Taking into consideration that students are left to study on their own while at the same time being least supervised by their course instructors, most of the students do not see the need to delve into their studies before the examination period. The reduced contact hours between instructors and students due to exclusive use of virtual interactive platform, instructors will not be able to constantly monitor students' learning progress. In this case, the outcome of the learning process in learners is compromised because instructors often fail to identify students' weaknesses in distance learning. On the other hand, instructors quickly identify individual learner's areas of weaknesses and fix them in time to bring about desirable learning outcome in learners.
Lack of the physical interaction between students and course instructors in the distance learning programs leads to gross instructional misunderstanding. This could have unbearable detrimental effects on the accuracy and effectiveness with which learning objectives are met. Contrary to the traditional face-to-face form of education, distance learning deprives students of the adequate opportunity to be in constant contact with their course instructors. Therefore, they are bound to experience instruction breakdown from the internet learning interface. It is imperative to note, however, that distance education leads to increased incidences of cheating alongside other host of irregularities in online examinations.
In conclusion, distance learning has proven to be more convenient, cheaper and confidential learner-friendly mode of learning. The global enrolment rates in the institutions of higher learning have shot up tremendously since the rolling out of distance learning educational programs. Judging from the ongoing trends, it is evident that distance learning will continue to gain prominence over the traditional face-to-face education.