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From a Distance

Posted: August 19, 2015 — Denise L. Passero

Learning from a distance, or completing coursework using the Internet exclusively without having to commute to a college campus, is becoming an increasingly popular option for students wishing to take a class or earn degrees online. A recent study on “Usability in Online Course Design: Perspectives on Ease-of-Use, Satisfaction, Motivation, and Teacher Presence” by Jeanne Myers, PhD, shows online learners making up 33% of the total higher education population. The study shows that community colleges consume 50% of the higher education online market. During the spring 2015 semester, 46 online classes were offered at FM with a unique enrollment of 460 students. Thus, we can see how important opportunities to learn from a distance are to prospective students.

What are the advantages of taking classes or completing an entire degree program online? Having completed two degrees fully online myself, I know from personal experience that flexibility is a huge reason many opt to learn from a distance. Students who are currently in the workforce or raising a family have the opportunity to pursue a degree that may have eluded them if learning from a distance were not possible. Another advantage is the inherent savings appreciated by learning from a distance. Distance learners can save time and money by studying online. Using the Online Learning Cost Savings Calculator on the Open SUNY website, I calculated the savings I would enjoy if I took one online course at FM. Based on this calculator, my personal savings would be $218.31 for a semester compared to taking one face-to-face class that meets three times a week over a 15-week period. The inputs are the cost of $2.99 per gallon for 89 octane gas used by my car, and placing a value on my personal time of $15.00 per hour. A third advantage is having the convenience of being able to set my own study schedule, which is a plus for working folks and parents.

What kind of student is well-suited for learning from a distance? The successful distance learner is one who has the circumstances, who manages time wisely, who is self-motivated, and who is well organized. This student is also adept at expressing themselves in writing. What are the challenges? Students enrolled in distance learning courses can expect to spend twice as much time on coursework or more compared to their peers in seated versions of the same course. Distance education courses are much more reading and writing intensive. As an instructor, preparing and teaching an online course requires a significantly greater input of time and energy than preparing and teaching that same course in the seated classroom. Last but not at all least, both the distance learner and the instructor need to be competent with technology and have creative problem solving skills.

So then you may be asking yourself, why learn from a distance? For those who have the circumstances and the drive, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Take it from a distance learner and instructor, the flexibility, cost savings, and sense of accomplishment derived from meeting the challenges is worth the effort. If you have never taken an online course, FM is a great place to get started learning from a distance.

Denise L. Passero is FM’s Systems/Application Technology Coordinator.

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