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A Comparison Distance Learning Courses vs. Classroom vs. Books

Distance Learning Courses  vs Classroom based courses vs Learning by Books comparison

Distance learning often referred to as e-learning or online learning, is now a significant contributor to the education sector globally and is growing by around 5% annually. Global Market Insights (GSI) predicts that by 2024 the distance learning market will exceed $200 billion.  To a large extent, this growth is driven by the shift towards more flexible education solutions in both corporate and educational sectors that are not readily available from the traditional educational methods of classroom learning and textbooks. Distance learning provides full time and part-time students and employees affordable access to high-quality teaching materials and methods irrespective of their geographical location.  

However, traditional educational methods still play and will continue to play a significant role; there is no indication that they will be entirely usurped by distance learning; each approach has something to offer. Here we consider some pros and cons of each. Finally, we provide some essential tips on how to make distance learning work for you.

A quick look back

It is instructional to look at how e-learning has developed since the arrival of the world wide web in 1989. As people embraced the web, educational materials began to appear online. By the conclusion of the 1990s, we had adopted the concept of e-learning though in reality it mainly provided online access to the same old traditional educational materials.

In the year 2000 the UK Government, along with 12 universities and various businesses including Sun Microsystems, embarked on the UK e-Universities (UKeU) project. UKeU offered a range of e-learning courses in arts and sciences at undergraduate, post-graduate on life-learning levels. The project failed to deliver as planned, and in 2004 it was abandoned. Over the following year progress generally was slow, but from 2010, sector saw rapid expansion with 2013 seeing the launch of the Massive Open Online Course Alliance (MOOCA). Led by the UK, this initiative now comprises over 90 universities and organisations globally, offering free online courses to over 4 million students.

Over recent years, we have seen many innovations in distance learning. It is now crucial for increasing numbers of businesses; mobile e-learning is growing apace; gamified e-Learning is also making a significant impact along with bite-sized learning and augmented reality. Today there are thousands of courses available in a vast range of academic and professional topics.

Our survey statistics

We surveyed just over 120+ people to understand which type of learning process students prefer and the challenges students associate with self-learning. Here is what we found:

Learning preferences

  • 41% of students prefer ‘E-learning (following a structured course online)’
  • 52% of students prefer ‘E-learning + tutor (following a structured course online + checking in with a tutor via online from time to time)’
  • 01% of students prefer ‘Independent learning (online and book)’
  • 07% of students prefer ‘Class Learning’

 

 Learning Preference Statistics

What is most important to you?

  • 16% of students answered ‘Working at their own pace’
  • 7% of students answered ‘Flexibility’
  • 38% of students answered ‘A tutor’
  • 93% of students answered ‘A structured course’

What is most important to students when deciding how they wish to learn?

 

Hardest part of self-learning

  • 56% of students answered ‘Self-discipline’
  • 67% of students answered ‘Lack of support/direction’
  • 11% of students answered ‘Lack motivation’
  • 56% of students answered ‘Lack of structure’

Hardest Part about Self-Learning-Distance-learning

 

Conclusion of results

Looking at the above statistics we can conclude the following:

  • Students do not place much importance on a tutor, in fact, they prioritise flexibility and being able to work at their own pace over a tutor.
  • Self-discipline is the most difficult part of self-learning (by far!)
  • Students prefer the various types of e-learning over class and individual learning.

Pros and cons of alternative approaches to learning

Now that we have set the stage, we will examine how distance learning compares with the more traditional methods. We will look at the main advantages it offers, along with some of the potential downsides compared with classroom learning. We will also focus specifically on the role of textbooks and why in many areas they are being replaced by online educational materials.

Advantages of online learning

In general terms, online learning allows students to take a higher level of responsibility and control over their education, providing students and teachers with far greater flexibility in content and method of delivery. From the student’s point of view, specific advantages include:

  • You can schedule your work around other commitments and leisure activities
  • You can work from anywhere that has an internet connection, even when on the move
  • You don’t need to travel long distances or relocate to a college campus
  • You can work at your own pace
  • You have a much greater choice regarding courses, educator and teaching materials
  • You enjoy the flexibility to join online discussions at any time with both fellow students and tutors
  • Interactions with both fellow students and instructors are more frequent than in a typical large lecture theatre set-up
  • Online learning can accommodate many different learning styles through a variety of activities
  • By taking more personal responsibility, distance learning helps you develop a more profound sense of self-knowledge and confidence
  • Distance learning is usually less costly than attending courses on campus
  • Computer-based materials are generally considerably cheaper and far more flexible than books

Disadvantages of distance learning

Despite all those positive aspects of distance learning, it isn’t everybody’s panacea. Some students encounter problems with the demands it places on them and would thrive better in a more formal setting. For instance:

  • Students who lack adequate motivation and self-discipline can quickly fall behind in their work
  • The lack of standard educational structures and the need to attend classes and labs risks confusion regarding assignments and deadlines
  • Some students feel isolated without face to face interactions with fellow students and tutors
  • Students with poor computer skills may find the online learning process over-complicated

Advantages of learning from books

Books have traditionally played a major role in education at all levels, though today that role is diminishing and we indicate the main reasons for this below. However, that does not mean that books no longer have a place in learning. They can provide an additional resource to the total the learning experience, especially in traditional academic and classical areas that don’t date quickly.

Their main advantages are:

  • They provide an overview of the subject or topic
  • They mostly contain information that is considered accurate at least at the time of writing
  • They are always at hand so you can dip into them when you need to
  • Many traditional teachers base their courses round recommended textbooks

Disadvantages of learning from books

  • A big problem with learning from books is that in today’s fast-moving technological society, textbooks go out of date rapidly.
  • Updating books is an expensive and slow process. Online teaching resources, however, can be updated quickly at minimal cost.
  • Textbooks are limited to the static information they contain in their pages; e-learning resources can include multi-media and virtual reality thus providing an entirely different and highly varied learning experience.
  • Learning from books is non-interactive while online learning offers an excellent opportunity for interaction and discussion among students and teachers.
  • Books are expensive to produce. Consequently, they are rarely published in fringe subjects that are in low demand, while online resources can readily be created for small audiences.
  • Teaching courses that depend principally on books now feel embedded in the past and eventually will be replaced by online learning materials.

Advantages of classroom learning

Learning in a classroom setting has been at the core of formal education since ancient times. It provides real interactions that cannot be entirely replicated by any form of online teaching. Having a real-life person at hand to deal with queries immediately is a decided advantage especially when the teacher has many years of experience in the topic. The main advantages are:

  • Experts on the topic are on hand to answer questions and provide practical help
  • It encourages debate in peripheral subject matter which can add depth to the material
  • It can provide hands-on tuition in more practical subjects
  • Spending dedicated time in the classroom avoids distractions
  • Interacting and networking with other students helps understanding

Disadvantages of classroom learning

  • Classroom learning lacks flexibility and students must plan their lives around the timetable
  • Students may need to travel long distances or relocate to a college campus
  • The pace of work is dictated; you have to keep up or risk falling far behind
  • There is a restricted choice on courses, educator and teaching materials
  • Tuition costs are relatively high

 

Summary of main advantages and disadvantages of alternative learning methods

Feature

Distance learning

Learning from books

Classroom learning

Flexibility

Yes

No

No

Work from anywhere

Yes

Yes

No

Need to travel or relocate

No

No

Yes

Wide choice of courses, educator and teaching materials

Yes

No

No

Human/human interaction

No

No

Yes

Online virtual interaction

Yes

No

No

Accommodates different learning styles

Yes

No

No

Demands a high level of personal responsibility and self-discipline

Yes

Yes

Less so

Relative cost

Least expensive

Variable

Most expensive

Support from other students

Yes

No

Yes

Need reasonably good computer skills

Yes

No

No

Up to date subject matter

Yes

No

Yes

Multi-media learning

Yes

No

No

Practical hands-on help available

No

No

Yes

Work at your own pace

Yes

Yes

No

 

Making distance learning work for you

As we have said, one of the more attractive features about online learning is you can fit it around your lifestyle. While the benefits of being able to do this are obvious, there are also potential pitfalls that could compromise your progress.

These pitfalls involve self-motivation, discipline, and commitment. When you attend classroom or lecture theatre you have a timetable imposed on you; you know where you have to be and when. But given the freedom that distance learning offers, you might be tempted to de-prioritise your online course for alternative activities.

It is crucial to avoid the much-held myth that distance learning is easier than formal learning methods; in reality, it is nothing of the sort. Distance learning is, or at least it should be, as rigorous a pursuit as formal full or part-time classroom learning. To benefit most from what it has to offer, you need to be willing to apply yourself as much as you would in a more formal educational setting.

Here are some simple tips that should help you plan and successfully implement your online learning project:

  • Time management – your first step should be to assemble a study timetable that covers every aspect of your course. Start with all the various milestones such as assignment dates, allocating sufficient time to for each of them. Things nearly always take longer than you anticipate, so include enough contingency to allow for when things don’t quite go as planned. Ensure there is no clash between your study timetable and other aspects of your life; one of the reasons you are choosing distance learning is to be able to balance your workload with your leisure time. While your study timetable might not be set in stone, try to keep to it. Get your friends to buy into your plans, so they understand and respect your commitments.
  • Workspace – you don’t necessarily need to practice Feng Shui, but organising a comfortable and relaxing workspace can do much to increase your efficiency, quality of work, and general wellbeing. If you can set it up close to a window then all the better; that way you get more natural light and occasionally glancing outside can be good for you. However, some people prefer to work in a library, or even in a café; it all depends what works best for you.
  • Say no to manana – that Spanish word for tomorrow. Procrastination is one of the more dangerous habits any distance learning student can develop; why do today what you can do tomorrow? Avoid it at all cost; do what should be done today and don’t put it off till later.
  • Set achievable goals – small steps are the best steps. Break down major goals into achievable targets and reward yourself each time you make one. You may come across some hurdles that, at first sight, seem impossible, but persevere one step at a time, and you might be amazed at how quickly you put them behind you.
  • When you need it, reach out for help – asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Every distance learner needs extra help on occasion or maybe frequently. Your tutors are always willing to provide a little more when it’s needed; it’s one of the reasons they are there, so don’t hesitate to let them know when you need a little bit extra.

Finally

Distance learning is the modern way of learning and offers many advantages over the more traditional approaches. It’s not for everyone; to benefit from it fully, you need to apply self-motivation and discipline. But, if you can do so and commit fully to your learning goals, then the opportunities distance learning offers are huge and probably the best way of advancing your career.

 

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