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Methods of delivery

Distance learning

What is distance learning?

Distance learning (also referred to as distance education) is training delivered to students or participants who do not gather together regularly in the same place to receive it in person from the trainer. Essentially detailed materials and instructions are sent or made available to students who carry out tasks which are in turn evaluated by the trainer. In fact the teacher and learners may be separated not only geographically but also in time.

Why is distance learning used?

Distance learning allows students to take classes whenever and where ever they are. It allows them to fit their learning and education around other responsibilities and commitments such as family and work. It also gives students, who would not otherwise be able to learn because of time, distance or financial difficulties, the opportunity to participate. It also has the potential to make less commonly taught subjects available to more learners.

Pros and cons of distance learning

Distance learning can be very effective, especially for more mature learners who have strong motives for wanting to succeed and are happy to be in charge of their own learning. However, successful Distance Learning packages, cutting out the relentless timetable of face-to-face learning are nonetheless not an easy option for either learner or trainer. Here are some of the pros and cons:

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Easy logistics — all you need is good communications
  • Lack of overheads such as classroom and teaching staff
  • Students are in control of when they learn and at what pace
  • It can be more affordable/possible because students can fit study around work
  • Time and work associated with delivering distance learning exceeds that of face-to-face training
  • Administrative support for distance learning may need to cater to greater number of students
  • Some students find learning at a distance isolating
  • The lack of structure and need for high level of motivation/initiative can be challenging for students

How is distance learning delivered?

Distance learning can be delivered using a variety of techniques and technologies. E-learning is probably the most expensive and cutting edge form of distance learning but there are other ways of delivering training at a distance that have been used successfully for many years. Methods of delivery include:

What is different about distance learning?

Distance learning requires a different approach in terms of course planning, design, delivery and communications. Learners will need to be self-motivated to begin with and to develop persistence and skills in self-directing work. Trainers and teachers will develop and use new training methodologies and styles, departing from straight instruction to managing learning strategies, supporting students, facilitating debate at a distance and disseminating information and views. Some of the elements of facilitated and individual learning are present in distance learning.

How to write distance learning materials

When developing textual materials for Distance Learning it is important that they are written in a way that engages the learner. Some tips are:

Success factors

There are some critical success factors for distance learning:

  1. The trainer needs to be enthusiastic and committed
  2. The team should include good administrative support and, depending in the type of materials and delivery methods used, a good design and production staff
  3. The teaching materials must be properly planned so they are tested and ready in time. Most of the work occurs before the material reaches the students
  4. There must be facilitation and encouragement of learner interaction with both trainer and other learners
  5. The trainer needs to keep in regular contact with all the students
  6. Competent use of any technology used is a prerequisite. It should be fully tested and explained to the students so they are familiar and comfortable with it
  7. Communication and technical problems should be dealt with as they arise
  8. Trainers need to use a variety of methods for interaction and feedback (eg one-on-one and conference calls, snail-mails, e-mail, video and computer conferencing)
  9. Students could keep a diary of their views on progress and course content which they submit or share in some way at frequent intervals
  10. It is crucial to have a residential course at least once, preferably at the beginning to help learners settle into the distance learning routine and to give some direction on study techniques
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Last updated: 20 December 2005