Measuring The True Value of Distance Learning Education

feedback_form_excellentAh, the ongoing dispute about the true value of an education secured through a distance learning environment. The positive attributes of adult distance learning are often overlooked when we attempt to quantify the learning take-away, or the “value” of the education that is gained. Value is often perceived as being a subjective value—as well it should be.  If, in our learning, we absorb facts that are not applicable or useful in their application to our lives, knowledge gained is fine for the sake of knowledge, but what measurable value does it offer us?

Scholars have argued for centuries that the base of knowledge across multiple disciplines is required for a “full” life and experience, and that students who narrow their studies to only material often offered in distance education are limiting their own futures by narrowly focusing learning take-away on only the aspects of learning currently applicable to their personal use.   In other words, enrichment must occur for education to have successfully completed its objective.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of the challenges faced by distance learning is from traditional education models that teach us distance education does not offer as rigorous a discipline as that faced in a classroom setting.  To many, if the education required isn’t as focused and demanding as what they perceive they received in the past,  then it’s of little value.

Poppycock.

As a distance learning educator with over 14 years of experience working with adult students, I’ve gained a certain perspective on the distance learning opportunity that some actually find to be of value.  For that, we’re thankful.

Distance learning has come to mean many different things to different stakeholders.  It can mean a moderated forum for learning. It can mean a structured chat session, with questions and answers between instructor and student.  It can mean a fully self-created curricular model, with self-paced learning and writing of books and papers to support the take away value.

Distance learning has many strong points.

First and foremost is that distance learning, for the most part, takes place at a time and in a location that is of the learner’s choosing, creating a much more open learning environment for the student.  You don’t have to drive to a difficult location or catch public transportation, find a parking place, go out in the cold, dark, snowy or rainy night, etc.  You learn from the safety and convenience of—in most cases—your own office or home environment.  You may actually learn material that is more current.  Instructors and Professors who taught the same material for several generations of students found that they needed to update their material prior to it being placed online for the student’s use.  So while the Second World War still started for the USA in 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in both distance and non-distance learning, there may be some newer facts communicated in today’s Marketing 101 class online—there’s even a new term called Social Marketing, which may positively impact the learner’s ability to make money over the next, oh, say 25 years or so.

Secondly, much of pressure to learn is removed– in that the speed of learning can be adjusted by the learner him-or-herself.  Often, the classroom environments where the physical process of listening, taking notes, and building a base for the learning of material will actually interfere with the learning process itself.  In other words, we’re so focused on following a “good student model” that we miss the key, critical points of the entire learning experience communicated!

Third, learning can become a pleasure in the distance model.  Students—especially adult students who have studied in brick and mortar environments previously—find that they enjoy the learning process, and eagerly and aggressively seek out new material to learn and find that they will work to gain exposure to new and, as yet, unlearned material.  The incentive to learn is enhanced, and the abilities to assimilate material are increased without the immediate physical pressure of an instructor.

Fourth, key points of information necessary for learning can be communicated at the same time, and in the same way, across a group of students regardless of geographical dispersal.  This is important— the information stream to the students must be consistent.  Distance learning allows that to happen, whether we’re using independent distance learning or a moderated environment.

We’ve worked with literally hundreds of students over the years.  If you’d like to discuss distance learning programs and some of the impact on the lives of students with whom we’ve worked, feel free to give me a call at 800-335-9269 or direct at 917-224-6782 or email me at aguinn@theguinnconsultancygroup.com.

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