Although distance learning offers more people an opportunity to attain higher education, it is not all advantages and benefits. Distance learning has costs, requires compromises and self-motivation is essential for success. However, when you acknowledge and understand these disadvantages, they are easily overcome.
1. Distance learning requires self-motivation. Because distance learning is flexible, you need good organization, planning and work to make it happen. Academic leaders cited in Growing by Degrees, Online Education in the United States, 2006 , stated, "Students need more discipline to succeed in online courses." Though the instructor is not seated in front of you, you still need to complete your assignments on time. Like all other forms of learning, there are deadlines to be met, "fixed-time" exams to be taken and assignments to be completed before the "Drop Box" closes. There are no compromises and you can easily get a zero! Distance learning is best suited for mature motivated learners who cannot afford the time to participate in a traditional classroom
2. Distance learning does not give you direct access to your instructor. Some students fear the loss of the personal touch with an instructor, such as asking questions after class. However, distance learning often gives you an opportunity to email your instructor any time or chat online. It is normal to fear the loss of human contact offered in a traditional classroom until you commit yourself to this mode of learning and communication.
3. Distance learning is isolated. Although you are in a virtual classroom full of students, the dynamics of interaction change with online education. You may feel detached or lonely when you pursue a distance learning program but there are opportunities to send emails, post to message boards and engage in online group discussions. At first you might miss face-to-face contact with your instructor and other learners, but web collaboration can fill this void for many students.
4. Distance learning requires you to have constant, reliable access to technology. Students need total access to the equipment necessary to fulfill course requirements. For example, online courses require a computer with Internet access. For a course with material on CD or DVD, you need to have a multimedia player. Technical requirement may be difficult to meet for some students who may feel overwhelmed and challenged if they are not completely computer literate. Technical glitches and dealing with an unfamiliar learning environment can cause stress and frustration, but there are many ways to overcome these barriers.
5. Distance learning does not offer immediate feedback. In a traditional classroom setting, a student's performance can be immediately assessed through questions and informal testing. With distance learning, a student has to wait for feedback until the instructor has reviewed their work and responded to it.
6. Distance learning does not always offer all the necessary courses online. Students pursuing a specific certificate or degree program may not have all the necessary courses available through distance learning so it is not suited for all subjects. For example, you can study a history lesson completely online but you cannot perform nursing clinicals online. For some courses, physical classroom attendance will be mandatory to complete the course.
7. Distance learning may not be acknowledged by a specific employer. Although most employers do acknowledge distance learning, certain employers do not. Students who want to work for a specific employer upon graduation should be sure of that employer's perspective about online education.
8. Hidden costs. If you work for the military and you are on the ship, learning material may need to be mailed in advance thus incurring extra shipping and handling costs
9. Distance learning must be accredited. You take a serious risk when you pursue distance learning programs that are not accredited because they may be issuing fraudulent, invalid degrees. Not all distance learning is legitimate - there are many "degree mills" colleges that are not accredited. This is probably the most important factor to check before you enroll in a distance learning institution.
10. Distance learning does not give students the opportunity to work on oral communication skills. Students in distance learning courses do not get the practice of verbal interaction with professors and other students.
Numerous studies have found distance learning courses as effective as traditional classroom training - or better. Almost a third of academic leaders recently surveyed felt online education outcomes were superior to those in traditional learning environments. However, there are challenges to be overcome for anyone who opts to learn through distance learning.