Is e-learning Right for Me?

A Guide for potential students

With the ongoing recession many people are considering furthering their education, either to enhance their chances of keeping their current work, or to better position themselves for finding new work. The external commitments of many rules out returning to full-time study, but distance learning and e-learning are increasingly common options. This article examines the pros and cons of this form of education and helps you find the option most suited to your needs.

What is e-learning?

Distance education is any kind of learning that takes place without the need to attend a specific place. Traditionally distance learning took the form of the so-called correspondence course that provided students with printed study materials. e-learning is the increasingly common modern variant, which involves the use of computer technology in the education process. However, e-learning can also figure in on-campus education too with technology used to supplement the traditional learning process.

e-learning shares distance learning’s advantage of flexibility, allowing learners to study when and where it’s most convenient to them. However, it has the added benefit that study is possible from any online computer, removing the need to carry around textbooks and other materials.

With the potential to teach in a variety of novel and stimulating ways e-learning goes way beyond the printed page. Study material may take the form of audio recordings, video clips, animations and interactive simulation.

The sense of isolation often experienced by students was a major disadvantage of distance learning. e-learning attempts to overcome this by providing online academic support and creating a virtual community of learners. This may take the form of asynchronous bulletin boards in which users create and respond to threads in their own time, or real-time tutorials and seminars. Communication with instructors and fellow students is not restricted to text on screen and may include sound and vision using hardware such as web cams and cell phones and software such as Skype.

With e-learning it is possible to enrol with institutions based anywhere in the world, thus widening the choice of available courses. By searching the Web you can select the course that best fits your needs, and offers the highest quality of instruction.

Any kind of study requires commitment from the learner. Though e-learning has come a long way from the mind-numbing computer-based training (CBT) of the 1980s and 90s you still can’t download knowledge effortlessly into your brain. As with any kind of independent study, e-learning demands a high degree of motivation and self-discipline. If you’re unsure, see if there’s a short, taster course you can take to get a feel for what’s involved. Some institutinons may even publish samples of learning material on the Web or CD-ROM.

Institutions have many reasons for adopting e-learning including its potential to facilitate learning, increasing market share, and reducing costs. Obviously some will produce better offerings than others. Some points to look for in selecting an institution/course include:

  • How widely recognised is your proposed institution? (The Internet makes it easy for bogus institutions to offer worthless qualifications just for paying the fee)
  • Who will be your instructors? What are their qualifications?
  • What level and nature of support is available? (ie how you will contact your instructors, whether you will have contact with fellow students)
  • What time commitment does the course require? Must it be completed within a fixed schedule? Does the commitment fit with your current schedule?
  • How long has the institution been engaging in e-learning?
  • How long has your course of interest been running in e-learning form? (e-learning is rapidly evolving and institutions often improve courses after their first presentation. If your course of interest is new, enquire if a discount is available in return for offering constructive feedback)
  • How will you be assessed – by assignment or examination? If an exam is required will you be able to sit it at a convenient place and time?
  • What are the computing requirements? (hi-tech courses often require a particular specification of hardware and software, make sure yours is compatible)
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