Over the last two decades distance learning has undergone what can only be described as a revolution. Whereas 20 years ago distance learning usually meant buying the prescribed textbooks and struggling through them largely unaided with only the occasional letter from a lecturer to provide clarification about the most important points, in 2013 interactivity has become one of the most important components of successful distance learning.
The distance learning student in 2013 can now be in daily contact with the course lecturer either via voice/video technologies such as Skype, via instant messaging and email, or using text messaging. With the advent of mobile applications it is also no longer necessary to always have access to a computer; mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices now make it possible to stay in contact even while traveling.
By using modern screen sharing software, a lecturer has the ability to virtually ‘take over’ the screen of their students; the student will be able to see every word the lecturer types and the lecturer will be able to use still images and video to highlight key issues.
The concept of the ‘webinar’ is another way in which distance learning has been transformed in recent years. Webinars are, in essence, online seminars and allow a large number of students to attend an interactive training session while being able to interactively communicate with the instructor, just as they would in a ‘real’ classroom.
One might argue that distance learning can never really compete with ‘brick and mortar’ institutions because there is no interaction with fellow students, but one only has to view the lively discussion on the Facebook page of any major distance learning institution to see that this is no longer the case. The integration of social media sites such as Facebook into the learning experience has made it possible to interact with fellow students on a daily basis.
Distance learning applications in the business world
Many employers nowadays actually prefer distance learning over traditional methods when it comes to teaching their employees new or updated skills. The ‘earn while you learn’ approach has numerous advantages over other, more traditional approaches to learning. The student is able to study without taking time off from work and can use the new skills they have acquired immediately, instead of years later when most of what they have learned will likely have been forgotten.
In the modern world where things can change at a bewildering pace, it is often necessary to be retrained or to significantly upgrade knowledge on a particular subject. For example, an accountant who has been in business for 20 years will need to stay abreast of new developments in the field such as new tax laws and software, and distance learning allows the individual to stay current without losing any time from work. This can be particularly important if an individual is self employed.
Perhaps the most positive aspect of distance learning is the convenience it offers. For example, someone who wishes to enroll in medical billing and coding classes in Miami but who lives outside the city in the suburbs would have to commute a considerable distance to attend physical classes, while choosing one of the online medical billing and coding schools would involve no commuting and allow the individual in question to have the ability to study at his or her own pace.