Attend College from Home
What is Distance Learning?
Distance education takes place when teachers and students cannot be present in a traditional location like a classroom or even a physical campus. Learning at a distance now uses personal computers and internet communication, but the concept dates from the 18th century. Originally, distance education used the mail service to pass teaching materials to students and students’ work back to teachers, who charged fees for what were called “correspondence courses.”
The advent of radio and television introduced education using those broadcasts, and the internet later made dissemination of instruction even more widespread and simple. Today, many reputable universities offer programs online, including paths to a wide array of professional degrees.
While the usual mode of teaching is by computer, you can still take some courses by mail, but you may pay more for the postage and printed material and you must wait for mail delivery in both directions. Taking a course online involves logging into a remote system that delivers your homework assignments, lecture notes, and tests.
Advantages of Distance Learning
- No relocation is required. You and your school can be half a world apart and still be able to connect with each other for the purpose of instruction. You may not ever see your teacher, or classmates, but you can still interact with them at scheduled intervals.
- Work from anywhere using an internet connection. The fastest possible connection is recommended if you participate in a course that requires you, your classmates, and your teacher to be online at the same time, because you will probably need to keep up with streaming video or live chat.
- Flexible class schedules. The instant accessibility afforded by the internet, when used in a distance learning program conducted by e-mail or some other method that you can use at any time, means you can interleave your learning time with your other activities in the way most convenient to you.
- Save time and money by not traveling to and from physical classrooms.
- Tuition may be cheaper. That is not always the case, because when you study in the online division of a traditional university, you often take the same courses and pay the same tuition. However, the value you receive is clear, and such a degree (for example, a B.A. from Penn State as opposed to one from University of Phoenix) is worth more in the job market.
- No fear of asking questions. Many students are timid when it comes to classroom participation for fear of seeming slow or asking obvious questions. When you communicate with a professor individually, you can explain your query more fully, unhampered by self-consciousness.
Disadvantages of Distance Learning
- No social interaction. This drawback is probably of more importance to younger people, because older working students may welcome the respite from face-to-face meetings. However, if stripping the frills from your education and achieving the most possible in the time you have is a priority, the lack of socializing does serve that purpose.
- No extracurricular activities… or that was the rule before it became possible to join a university club and participate online. Even if you can’t be there in person for club activities, you can sign up and volunteer to help out with the club’s website, for example. And if you can show up at an event once every few months, you can meet the people you’ve been talking to in the virtual world.
- Motivation and focus may present a problem. Some people find it easier to remain interested in a course if they’re physically present in a classroom, but it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a challenge you would face as a distance learner.
What You Will Need For Distance Learning
Every school has its own student eligibility requirements, but there’s no reason to expect those to differ for distance education. You will need to have either a high school degree or GED. If English is your second language, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), is usually required.
For online learning, you must have a reliable computer and internet connection. Those are essential to success, because you are responsible for securing access to the classes and coursework. Always have a backup plan in case your computer or connection fails to work.
Your contingency plan could be a friend’s computer, library, internet cafe, or a Kinko’s– for renting computer access, just verify location, business hours, and cost ahead of time. Some schools offer technical support to help you connect.
Choosing A School
Do check the credentials of your online university thoroughly before enrolling. If you choose a school that’s an online branch of a well-known traditional university, that job has been done for you by the school’s known history, and consequently you should take that path if at all possible.
The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of recognized accrediting agencies, and that is where your vetting should begin. It is also recommended that you select a nonprofit school rather than an institution that expects to earn money on your tuition.
How To Pay For Your Degree
As distance education moves into the mainstream of education, it has gained access to types of financing, like federal and private student loans, that were once reserved for students at physical universities. There is a useful page on the Federal Student Aid website that helps you calculate the cost of your degree and gives you information on payment options.
As you see, most types of student financial aid are given only to students attending accredited schools, so starting your review of schools with that in mind is necessary. There is more detail about loans available for distance learning here.