Impact of Distance Learning On Education

Future of learning

Aided by digital technology and fast, affordable  internet, the education systems  around the world are experiencing a radical change. Today, distance learning is competing against conventional campus learning as students seek a more accessible, flexible, and affordable means of study. It is also gaining popularity among elder citizens wishing to pursue higher education without having to study on-campus.

Does distance impact the learning?

The obvious question to ask would be – does the distance  affect the performance of students  and the quality of its education? There seems to be a perception that it does, even though there are is not real data to back this perception.

 What there is data on, is how people are responding to the idea of remote learning. A 2019 Annual Trends in Online Education research conducted by Best Colleges found that 23% of its respondents were concerned about the ‘Quality of instruction and Academic Support.’ Another 18% expressed their concerns about the ‘Perception of an Online Degree by Prospective Employers.’ The same research, however, also found that 32% of the respondents had no concerns in taking up an online education/distance learning course – a rise of 1% from 31% a year ago.

Another research, conducted in Pakistan on the ‘Impact of Distance Learning Education on Education Standards’, found that it has many more advantages over the traditional system of learning. Students were found to prefer this form as it “allowed them to adjust their classes according to their own schedule and also attend class more regularly”. It also enabled them  to take more courses in a year than the traditional system would have allowed them to do.

Similarly, a case study of Allama Iqbal Open University conducted on the Impact of Distance Education on Student Performance, also found that it has led to an increase in a variety of degree programs, student admissions and student satisfaction. The only drawback both these researches found was the lack of students to contribute and interact in the learning process.

The upwards graph

The trend seems to be on the rise. A 2015 study reported that 49% of regular students took online classes in the last 12 months. Another survey by the Babson Survey research groups also found that at least 33% of college students take at least one online course. These studies only reiterate the fact that  online classes and courses (eg. Online learning platforms such as Coursera and Undemy) have become a great source of learning for students who wish to expand their learning beyond the textbook.

Redefining the way we learn

From 2016-18, colleges around the world saw a tremendous decline in university applications, with UCAS reporting only a slight rise in 2019. While this dip might not be directly proportional to a rise in distance learing enrolments, it did lead many universities to revamp their traditional courses to make them accessible online.  The world’s top three universities ( according to the QS Top Universities ranking 2020_ – Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University and Harvard University, have also made a number of courses accessible online.

EdX, a non profit organisation, is one of the primary  providers of, what is called – The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), where hosts of university-level courses are available for students worldwide (many are free of cost) . It has become a dynamic platform that has redefined the way people learn and has enabled learners from across the globe to take courses without leaving their homes.

The idea is not to pit on aginst the other – both the forms of learing have their advantages and benefit students who avail of them.The traditional system of learning will always have the upper-hand in terms of the wholesome experience for students over distance learning  However, in terms of the quality of education offered and the preference of students, this form of  learning  is quickly catching up. Many students take both – as one can compliment the other well.

It wouldn’t be any surprise then if more and more universities were to offer distance learning courses as part of their curriculum soon.It would be the natural next-step.

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