Potential Pitfalls in Distance Education (Part One)

Forewarned is forearmed, I was always told. The positives and benefits of a distance learning or on-line education are numerous and varied – greater flexibility and control for the student, fewer distractions, saving time and money on travel and parking, amongst others. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some potential pitfalls in the process. Distance learning, just like traditional learning, requires commitment, sacrifice, and drive, and has some potential down sides for students. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about starting an on-line education program.

Technical Difficulties – Moving the classroom from the campus to the computer brings with it a set of unique difficulties. If there is a power outage during the two hours the instructor has defined for taking a mid-term, a student may lose time from the test, or miss the test entirely. If the high speed router malfunctions, or the broadband connection goes kaput, suddenly the student loses home access to his or her courses. These are tech problems that always lurk in the background, and can’t really be anticipated.

Another kind of tech problem can be discovered, and hopefully corrected, at the outset. When researching a distance ed program, find out the nuts and bolts of the technology involved. Is your computer fast enough? Does it have enough memory, or the proper video card? Are the classes streaming videos, or teleconferences, or is it simply a bulletin board? A student must determine if the computer they have is suitable for the program, and capable of handling everything the student will need from it. These are all issues that can be addressed during the research phase of the process. But without doing that proper research into the details, a student may encounter multiple problems during the initial set-up of the education program.

Isolation – One thing that is very hard to replicate for the distance learning is the social aspect of attending school. In a classroom, a student is surrounded by peers, and has personal interaction with the professor, teacher, or lecturer. This may not help with the learning process for some, but it puts the class and its lessons into a larger context – the student has other to reach out to, to connect with and ask questions, or get feedback. With distance learning, the student may end up feeling like they are in a vacuum, with no one around them to bounce ideas off of. This face-to-face interaction, or lack thereof, can be a big stumbling block for some students, who may need that social aspect to excel in their education.

Is the Instructor Prepared? – The instructor is the most important part of any course – they set the schedule and assignments, grade the papers and tests, and help the students understand the material and guide them to greater knowledge. If an instructor is distant, hard to reach, unclear on details,or even just overworked, it can have a huge impact on the success of the course.

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