Beyond a Diploma Mill
Distance education allows students to study, learn, and participate on their own schedule
First published in jobpostings magazine
careers. education. ideas. all of it.
Contrary to popular belief, taking a class or completing a degree online isn’t about lounging on the couch watching The Price is Right in your pajamas. Sure, technically you can be nude while participating in a heated discussion about the economy and you can submit your assignments while lying in bed, but the benefits of virtual distance learning are far greater than the freedom to not leave your house all day.
Distance education allows students to study, learn, and participate on their own schedule, at the place of their choice, and without the limits that face-to-face contact with a professor or peers demands. This type of learning is especially beneficial to students living in remote and sparsely populated regions, students with disabilities or special needs, mature students, and workers undertaking professional development. The ‘distance’ in distance learning can be psychological, social, or geographical; there are many factors that limit a students’ ability to attend a brick-and-mortar institution but that doesn’t mean their access to education has to be jeopardized.
Online and distance courses give students flexible alternatives so they can maintain work, family, and personal commitments while earning credits towards their degree. It also allows students to save money on commuting to and from campus, moving or living expenses, as well as the potential costs of day care if they have children.
Jenna Laskin, 28, a student completing a Human Resource Management degree from Humber College, decided to learn online for some of these reasons. “I wanted to be able to work and travel while completing the degree,” she says. “I was actually living in San Diego while taking my first three courses. Humber was the most appealing to me because the program started immediately and was very flexible. As a mature student, the idea of sitting in a classroom again did not appeal to me.”
In addition to the flexibility that distance education provides, there are also environmental benefits. “By not having campus attendance requirements, distance learning reduces the carbon footprint of maintaining classroom spaces and student commutes. The growing use of e-text books also saves trees. This makes it a much greener alternative,” says Dr. Nancy Parker, director of Institutional Studies at Athabasca University, a Canadian open university. By having online learning resources and reducing the need to construct new learning spaces, virtual distance learning not only saves students’ time and money, but also helps save the environment.
“The other benefit that you gain by doing a degree [or taking a course] online is that you learn how to communicate the way the world is communicating today,” says George Siemens, who has taught hundreds of courses online since the late 90s and is currently an online professor at Athabasca University. By learning online, you are developing your skills and ability to communicate in an age where being technologically savvy is key to your success.
Siemens also notes how distance learning and discussions online can be particularly useful for students who are more reserved and may have difficulties participating in the classroom. “In some ways, there’s a greater equity of participation online,” he says. “Someone who might be a bit more introverted might need more time to process their thoughts before sharing their thinking. So there’s more equity in that regard: the conversation might not be dominated by a few people as it might have been in class.”
Dr. Adam Chapnick, an associate professor at Canadian Forces College who has taught online and documented his experience on a blog called “Virtually Learning,” agrees. “To take a course online allows you to express yourself in online discussions in much greater depth than you often can in a face-to-face limited time discussion. It allows you to think through your comments in terms of class participation, edit them, proofread them, and double-check them before you post it. It allows you to get a broader sense of an entire dialogue before you add your comment. It leaves you with a record of other students’ comments that you can go back to, you don’t need a tape recorder. I think that a lot of the benefits come in the potential for depth in the students conversations that go on.”