Although a seemingly new technology, distance education has been around for over a century. Isaac Pitman first taught shorthand through correspondence as early as the 1840’s. Of course, the internet has revolutionized the way distance education is conducted and has lead to its wide spread throughout the world. A 1997-1998 government survey found that over 1. million students enrolled in distance education courses and nearly 50,000 college classes were offered through distance education in that academic year alone.
With the advent of the internet, students can now earn an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and even a PhD completely online. A variety of methods exist for each distance learning program, but modern technology brings the conveniences of the classroom often to the student’s home PC. Professors may prerecord lectures and upload them onto the internet for later viewing by students. Most distance education programs also utilize electronic discussion boards, email, chatrooms, and telephone to offer class interaction as well as teacher-student interaction.
Research is finding that today’s distance education student is not the traditional 18-22-year old found in the campus classroom. Students enrolling in online degree programs are typically older, already working, and engaged with responsibilities such as family. These adult learners often choose an online degree program in order to maintain a 40-hour work week while pursuing a college degree or further developing their current professional skills. Online degree programs have turned into a wonderful option for adult learners who are unable to enroll in traditional higher education.
One of the most appealing advantages of distance education programs is the flexibility of completing class work anytime and anyplace. Because lectures are often prerecorded, one student can “attend class” at 6:30 AM while another tunes in at 6:30 PM. It also gives students a broad range of online degree programs from which to choose instead of being limited to the campus degree programs offered in a specific geographical location.
As with anything, distance education does have its drawbacks to consider. Keeping up with an online degree program requires a certain amount of self-discipline and internal motivation. Without a specified class schedule and a professor assigning homework in-person, it can be easy to let family and work responsibilities swallow up study needs. It also takes effort to maintain effective communication with the professor and other students by keeping up with emails and discussion boards.
Students interested in pursuing an online degree program have a large selection of universities to choose from. Approximately one-third of all postsecondary learning institutions offered distance education programs in the 1997-1998 academic year, a number that has surely grown since the survey period.