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The Pros and Cons of Distance Learning

What is Distance Learning?

According to Wikipedia, modern distance education initially relied on the development of postal services in the 19th century and has been practised at least since Isaac Pitman taught shorthand in Great Britain via correspondence in the 1840s. The University of London claims to be the first university to offer distance learning degrees, establishing its “External Programme” in 1858.

Typically distance learning was undertaken on a correspondence course basis; however, times have changed somewhat since then due to advancements in technology. Distance learning can now be described as education that is received at an ‘off site’ location (home study or in an office at work) and these days, generally involving some sort of computer based training or system.

Effective distance learning should provide materials in a variety of formats to cater for differing learning styles (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic)  http://www.businessballs.com/vaklearningstylestest.htm ) so, ideally materials should include a mix of text, graphics, voice narration and video. Additionally, simulated activities and self-tests where the learner has to engage with the content can help provide stimulation and eliminate monotony.

Some Pros and Cons of Distance or Online Learning

Pros:

  • Flexibility: learners can complete their course from just about anywhere, provided they have a computer and internet connection. Learners can study at a time that suits them, without having to juggle work/home commitments to fit in with class attendance.
    Taught courses generally have a rigid timetable with specific start and finish deadlines that can’t be changed – with distance learning you can set the timetable and pace to suit you;
  • Falling behind: if you fall behind on a taught course, it can be confusing keeping up with rest of the group whilst still struggling to understand what was covered before – this obviously can’t happen with a distance learning course;
  • Price: prices for online courses are generally cheaper than traditional taught courses. Added to that, there will be savings on travel costs;
  • Availability: there is a wide variety of accredited and reputable courses on offer these days. Colleges or other providers may not offer the course you want and/or fit in with your timescales;
  • Preferred method for some learners: some learners prefer to work on their own, some may not cope with the pace of a classroom based course (some may find it too fast but others may find it too slow).  Others may simply prefer learning online;
  • No lost time at work: distance learning means that you can continue earning while you learn, with no drop in wages/salary;
  • Personal tutor:  you will be assigned a personal tutor who will be able to provide you with support on a one to one basis. Courses will be focused around you and your needs so that you can get the help when you need it – this may not always be available in a classroom situation;
  • Interaction with online community: many distance learning providers have forums or social networks where you can post questions and get involved with discussions with fellow learners.

Cons:

  • No face to face time with a tutor: if you have a learning style where you like face to face tuition, then distance learning may well not be for you;
  • Technological skills: if you are not particularly technology orientated and are worried about using new technologies, then classroom learning would probably suit you better as many distance learning courses now make use of on-line learning in addition to the traditional study manuals;
  • No social interaction: whilst with distance learning, you can interact with others via forums, discussion groups or chat rooms, you can’t arrange a ‘night out’ with fellow learners like you can with classroom learning;
  • Motivation: whilst you are likely to get plenty of support from a tutor on a distance learning course, you do have to be self-motivated, dedicated and organised in ensuring you allocate sufficient time and commitment to your studies;
  • A fixed routine: a taught course has set days or evenings for you to attend, imposing a routine on you. On a distance learning course, you need to impose this routine yourself;
  • College atmosphere: part of enrolling onto a taught course is the ‘college experience’ – you obviously won’t get this with a distance learning course.

 

Is Distance learning as effective as traditional face to face teaching?

There are many studies indicating that distance learning can be as effective (if not more so) than the traditional classroom format, provided that the methods are appropriate to the teaching tasks, there is learner-tutor interaction, and the tutors provide learners with appropriate and timely feedback.

Format of Accountancy Learning’s materials

At AAT Level 2 (Bookkeeping/Accounting), the materials include online interactive presentations with graphics and quizzes with automated marking (the introductory presentations contain audio narration which will be rolled out for all presentations over the coming year when the AAT introduce their new syllabus in September 2013); text based simulated activities and tests – some self-marked and other tutor marked; further interactive quizzes and learning games.

For AAT Levels 3 &4 where the content is more technical, the learning is blended i.e. a mix of online presentations, supported by text books and simulated activities/tests.

For Sage, the learning is online, supported by Sage video clips and our own Tutor/Sage video clips, Flash accounting clips to support the underpinning knowledge required when using Sage, simulations and online question banks.

For all of the above, a key ingredient is the level of contact from the personal tutor. We don’t wait for you to contact us – we contact you…….yes, ok,……. we nag!?!

 

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