What are distance learning courses?
Distance courses are studies of different subjects and levels, in which the student carries out most of the teaching activity without attending classes. Normally these activities are carried out from home, although it is also common to move to libraries or quiet cafés, where there is silence and a suitable environment for study.
Thus, the characteristic that distinguishes distance learning courses is the place where the activity will take place. Distance courses are also known by other names, such as non-presential courses or courses from home.
In the other extreme we would have the courses in which it is obligatory or necessary the attendance to classes, these would be the face-to-face courses. They are the most traditional and oldest model of training, whose origins go back to the Greek and Roman civilizations.
In the face-to-face mode, the course is given as if it were a conference, a speaker or teacher speaks to a group of listeners or students, who listen and take notes.
In an intermediate situation we would find the blended learning courses, which, as the name suggests, carry out part of the activity by attending the classrooms and the rest from home.
In this way, we have already distinguished the concept of modality of studies, which is divided between non-presential courses and distance courses. Let’s see how the courses would be classified according to this last modality:
- Distance courses: this is often the name given to typical non-presential courses, in which the student receives study materials, which usually consist of theory books, exercises, tests and self-evaluations, perhaps complemented with multimedia material such as DVDs or CDs. The student will study these materials from home, preparing for some kind of test or exam where their knowledge will be evaluated.
- Online courses: this is simply the Internet version of the distance learning courses. The ease of communication offered by the Internet can be used to teach courses. Thus, in addition to the typical materials mentioned in the previous point, we could add online campuses, discussion forums, blogs, wikis, videoconferences, on-demand video classes, etc. The result would be an online course.
At present, almost all the centres that offer distance courses do so in a hybrid way at a distance and online, where the student has some or all of the facilities of communication with the centre and his colleagues through the Internet, but in addition the centre provides him with study materials on paper, such as books or exercise books.
Thus, today the concept of “distance learning” is almost synonymous with “online course”.
Since when do distance learning courses exist?
From its beginnings this university was distinguished by two characteristics: no account was taken of the knowledge or qualifications that students had (which is why it is called an open university), and the courses were taken off-campus (at a distance).
This model was a success of such magnitude that not only does the university still exist, but it was also exported to the rest of the world, where universities of similar characteristics were formed. In Spain, the UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) is the biggest example, a public university where distance studies are carried out.
Previously, some projects had already been carried out, almost experiments, with similar characteristics but on a smaller scale by publishing companies. Short-term courses sold by instalments, such as language learning courses, were particularly noteworthy.
When the success of the distance university model became apparent, publishers also began to expand their courses and even to offer their own degrees to prove that they had passed the course.
The success of these distance courses was such that publishers began to create entire departments dedicated exclusively to designing and delivering their courses. One of the most outstanding and oldest examples in Spain is the distance learning courses of CEAC, which is now part of the Planeta publishing group.
CEAC publishes and updates its own books, which form part of the didactic material of the courses it teaches. The Planeta publishing house also includes other brands such as Laudeo, which specialises in courses for competitive examinations, Deusto Formación, which specialises in business courses, and Home English, which specialises in English courses.
You can access the page of remote centers to see those who collaborate with this portal.
For whom is it better to study distance courses?
There are many factors that can influence the choice of distance courses vs. face-to-face courses. The main factor will be the possibility of attending classes, but there are many others no less important:
- Distance: If you live far from the centres where the courses you want are given, you will not be able to do them more than at a distance.
- The timetable: If you work or have to do other activities at the same time as the course you want to study, then you will not have alternatives either, you will only be able to choose to study at a distance.
- Free time: If you have little free time, you may not be able to devote yourself to attending classes. With a distance learning course you can plan your study moments in times when you know that no one will bother you.
- Age: Imagine you want to study a secretarial course. If you’re over 30, would you attend a class with 18-year-old boys and girls? Although someone might find this idea attractive, for most people the age difference can make it so difficult that they will choose not to study. On the other hand, with distance learning courses, you can opt for official degrees identical to those obtained in high schools, but you won’t see your classmates directly (although you may be able to communicate with them via the Internet), and they will surely be in a similar situation to yours!
- Other difficulties: those mentioned above are the difficulties that most often make someone choose to study distance learning courses, however, there are others that are also determinant for many people, such as suffering from a certain type of disability that prevents travel, or certain phobias that prevent attendance at classes. In these cases, it is very important for the person concerned to make sure that the entire course will be held at a distance, that there are no compulsory practices, and that they can take the exams, which will almost certainly be face-to-face and under the supervision of a tutor.
When is it preferable not to study distance learning courses?
Let’s take an example: Ana lives very close to the Complutense University, where there are several careers that she likes. She has free mornings every day and she is sure that in the next four or five years it will continue to be that way, and Ana also took the university entrance exams for people over 25.
In this case, it is preferable for Ana to study at the Complutense and refrain from following any career or distance learning course, as she does not really need it.
The example aims to illustrate that, if we have all the facilities to study in face-to-face mode, very often it will be preferable to opt for that option.
Unless you have very good reasons for rejecting a face-to-face education, this is still the classical or traditional method that many people will prefer, as well as the fact that contact with peers and more direct contact with the teacher offer advantages over distance education.
What if you are of school age? You have to take into account the effect of maturity. Distance learning usually requires more willpower than attending face-to-face classes.
It’s harder to study when no one forces you, when no one rolls the roll, when you don’t have to see a classmate. That’s why distance learning courses are not suitable for most very young students, especially those of school age.
The younger ones will be preferable to attend classes at the nearest institute, and then get a degree at the university that is closer to home, in short, to follow the more traditional paths of study.