The Disadvantages of Distance Education

Distance Education: Connected through the Internet

Pursuing a college degree is a difficult task that requires organization, self-discipline, and time management. While many colleges and universities, through distance education programs, are making a college degree more convenient for students, is it really the best choice for all learning styles?

Zero Face-to-Face Interactions

If you are the type of student who benefits from speaking to others directly and in a real-time environment, distance education may not be the best option for you. Most schools utilize learning platforms such as Blackboard or eCollege and develop their classes in an asynchronous format; students and instructors are not required to be online in the classroom at any specific time or day of the week. Classroom discussions are typically posted on a discussion board with students respond to others in a ‘Facebook Newsfeed’ environment. While students can carry on conversations, there are not any sporadic questions or on-the-spot topics of conversation to go further in-depth on the subject.

Heavy Writing

Do you like to write? If not, consider the fact that online classrooms are 100% writing; there are no oral exams or class presentations in most distance education programs. Because distance education learners are typically non-traditional students with families, full-time jobs, or who live in rural areas, the ability to complete their coursework when it is convenient for them is the staple in distance education marketing. Because of this, oral presentations are not developed into the asynchronous layout to accommodate the needs of the learner. With this in mind, writing is the focus: discussion board postings, student responses, required papers, teamwork boards, journal entries, etc. Sound like fun? If you love writing it may not be a problem, but for those learners who prefer a variation of instructional methods, a distance education program may not be the best learning style to suit their needs.

Lack of Immediate Feedback and Answers

In general, no two individuals have the exact same schedule every day of their lives. With this in mind, an instructor may be in the classroom 20 minutes before a student sends an email requesting clarification on an upcoming assignment. If the instructor does not log back into the classroom until the next day, the student goes without guidance for the time being. Unfortunately, most distance education programs employ instructors who work off-campus throughout the United States (and even internationally) and require them to access the classroom, at minimum, every 24 hours.

Are you a good problem solver? Capable of frequently figuring things out on your own? If so, great! Distance education is probably an option worth looking into. If not, then there may be some times throughout your program where you feel frustrated, isolated, or ignored. While this is an unfortunate occurrence, one must take responsibility for the environment they entered into. Listed as one of the most frequent reasons for student withdraws, isolation if a major factor to consider when deciding on where and how to pursue your degree.


Deciding to continue your education is a major step and the decision should not be taken lightly. Careful consideration should be given to the university, accreditation, program of choice, future career goals, and method of instruction. While distance education may seem like the most convenient choice (and rightfully so) if it does not suit the needs of the learner, look elsewhere.

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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