Most of us have seen commercials for various Colleges and Universities from around the United States advertising their distance learning programs. The pitch goes along the lines of you will never have to set foot on campus, you will save money on fuel, on wear and tear on your vehicles, you can set your own pace, and so on. If you decide to take advantage of distant learning, remote education, online education, eLearning, or under whatever name they call it (for this article it’s distance learning), all that is, to a certain degree, true. Distance learning programs are booming and becoming more acceptable to the public and to the educational community in general. In Texas, according to the Texas Higher Education Commission, there over 500,000 students enrolled in distance learning programs for the Spring 2018 semester. That was over 20% of the total enrolled population. I am one of those students and benefiting from the program.
I want to talk about the benefits and the obstacles (drawbacks) to the distance learning experience. Since this is a Texas centric site dedicated to all things rural Texas, I want to concentrate on Texas colleges and universities. I am a senior citizen, a Texas veteran, and a distance learning student at Texas Tech University; so I won’t be saying anything about specific colleges or universities, there’s a link at the bottom to some rankings of distance learning programs. I am going to tell about my personal experience, why I choose distance learning, and what a person can generally expect.
There are many benefits to distance learning. For example, you study from home or anywhere you have an internet connection. Depending on the school, most often there are wide varieties of courses and majors to choose. Here in Texas Veterans can use the Hazelwood act and their VA educational benefits to pay for it, and lots of Financial Aid available especially if you’re old, (like I am), and in most cases. Depending on the school’s library system, the school’s library will let you check out books remotely (at least mine does Texas Tech). When I decided to go to Texas Tech to fulfill a bucket list item, I always wanted a degree from Tech, but life got in the way and my first collegiate experience was in California after I received my discharge from the military. I hated driving to class, sitting in a room for an hour and a half, in general I had a terrible time. Where I live in the Highland Lakes area of Texas there are two Texas Tech campuses within driving distance, one about two miles away, and the other about 40 miles away; however, I could not see myself sitting in a classroom with students some of whom are young enough to be my grandchildren. Once I enrolled, I discovered, that while I could work at my own pace, that did not mean I did not have to meet deadlines, in fact I had to become more focused on my studies and my scheduling in order to get things finished on time. I had access to the University’s advisors, several classes use video chat, and everything is done electronically. Since I have spent my career in IT, there was not a big learning curve for me on the technology. The entire experience has been for the most part incredibly pleasant and easy to do.
There are several obstacles that you need consideration before you enroll into a distance-learning program. You need a very reliable and fast internet connection. When I first started, I had to go into town and use the library’s Wi-Fi, for a lot of my work; once I was able to get wireless at my home, that was no longer a problem. If where you live does not have access to broadband that will be a problem. You cannot mess around and take your time within your course, you will have to meet deadlines, so if you are not prepared to work then you might want to reconsider distance learning. You can however, take fewer hours and slow down your progress, so in essence you will be working at your own pace, but that seems to prolong the time you are in school. If you are a people person, well, there is not too much face-to-face interaction in distance learning programs, and the sense of isolation can be an issue. Books are expensive, and I mean expensive, you can mitigate that issue by renting your textbooks from Amazon or the schools affiliated bookstore.
Overall, in my opinion, distance learning is a fantastic concept and way for folks to receive a higher education. Even if you do not live in the country away from the larger population centers, but want to avoid the congestion, and general craziness of having to sprint from place to place, but especially if you enjoy living in the peace and quiet of the country; check out the opportunities that are available.
For More Information, here are a few resources
Texas Higher Education Commission – http://www.txhighereddata.org/index.cfm?objectID=C5663580-D96E-11E8-BB650050560100A9
Community for Accredited online schools https://www.accreditedschoolsonline.org/texas/
Texas Tech – Online & Distance Learning https://www.texastech.edu/online.php