Guest post*: Flexibility in learning options with distance education

It’s a simple truth that not everyone has the ability to put their life on hold so they can go to school full time.

Educational programs have been trying to solve this problem for years by offering night and weekend classes, opening satellite campuses, and allowing students to study part time. The growing reach and popularity of the internet, however, has blown this model wide open by adding all kinds of new options and wrinkles to fit people’s busy lives. It’s the latest version of what in the last few decades has come to be known the world over as distance education. More and more people are trying it as a way of balancing hectic life responsibilities with the education they want and need to get ahead.

Here are just a few of the many ways that distance education offers you flexibility in your learning options:

Learn anywhere People used to say ‘learn from home’, but with wireless internet, hot spots, laptops, tablet computers, and even smartphones, people really can take classes—and do work—from anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home in your pyjamas, riding the train home on your nightly commute, or even vacationing halfway around the world—as long as you can get an internet connection, you can continue your education.

Be the tortoise—or the hare Many distance learning programs have people enrolled who also have full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Because of this, they offer the ability to let their students work at their own pace and finish assignments—and even entire classes—when they are able to do so. But this doesn’t have to be a one-sided thing; students who are able to work ahead and complete tasks faster than their classmates are encouraged to do just that so that they can finish the program quicker and earn that certificate or degree that they need.

To degree, or not degree Distance education is a wide umbrella that covers any number of subjects and styles of learning. Depending on your needs, that flexibility also extends to what you’re ultimately going to get out of the course or program you’re taking. Some people enroll for distance learning in the same way that they would enroll for a typical four-year university and they expect to earn degrees, diplomas, or certificates that they can use to meet necessary requirements for their jobs. Others are taking the class as part of an employee training program, to further their own professional development by gaining specific skills that they need, or just to learn about things that interest them personally and can help in their individual development.

Increase your learning options In many traditional classes, students go to a physical classroom and try to sit still and scribble notes for an hour or so while an instructor lectures. Unfortunately, not everyone learns in the exact same way, and this kind of atmosphere can cause some people to flounder because it goes against their natural preferences and learning styles. With distance learning, students may have a wide variety of options that include the aforementioned lecture as a streaming or recorded video (so that they can pause), an audio recording, a written transcription of the lecture, one-on-one video or text-based chats with the instructor, email correspondence, links to outside sources, and small groups that can meet up in person or online.

Set your own schedule ‘Attending’ class every day at 10 am or 10 pm just doesn’t work for some people’s schedules, so a number of schools have classes with the entire curriculum and every lecture posted online. You sign up for the classes you want, pay the appropriate fees, and work your way through the recorded class at the times and dates that are the most convenient for you. Instructors can be reached via email, and some are able to set up live video conferences as long as they have enough notice.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of flexibility in the learning options that you have when you start to look into distance education courses. The key is discovering courses that offer the kind of flexibility that you need so your education fits with your life and your goals.

* Our guest, Aileen Pablo, is part of the team behind Open Colleges and InformED, one of Australia’s leading providers of open learning and distance education. When not working, Aileen blogs about education and career. She is often invited as a speaker in Personality Development Seminars in the Philippines. If you are interested in featuring her work in your blog, you can find her on Google+.

photo credit: aurelio.asiain via photopin cc
photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

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