What Is a Distance Education Program?

Distance education programs allow students to pursue a college degree without having to attend class on campus. Read on to learn more about these programs and how they work.

Distance Education Program Overview

Distance education programs are increasing in popularity with schools and universities. They give institutions a means of offering courses to a wider group of students, particularly those who may not be able to attend courses or degree programs offered on-campus for a number of reasons, such as working full-time or being physically unable to get to campus. Distance education uses multimedia communications, computers, CDs, videos, the Internet, electronic conferencing, software programs and MP3s (or a combination) to deliver courses remotely. Scheduling for distance education programs is typically offered in two formats:

  • Synchronous requires all students to participate in courses at the same time.
  • Asynchronous allows students to work at their own pace.

Distance learning programs are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including associate's degree, bachelor's degree and master's degree programs, as well as certificates. A wide variety of subjects are offered in a distance learning format, and some programs are also offered in a hybrid format, where some classes or requirements are administered through distance learning, and the rest is completed on campus. Before enrolling, applicants should make sure the program is offered by an accredited institution.

Important Facts About Distance Learning

Prerequisites Vary, depending upon intended degree program of enrollment; associate's and bachelor's degree programs typically require a high school diploma, or equivalent
Fields of Study Economics, criminal justice, international politics, marketing, psychology, organizational leadership, nursing, information sciences and technology, and many more
Possible Careers Compliance officer, teacher, engineer, sales representative, software developer, graphic designer, technical writer, interior designer
Continuing Education Licensure or certification may be required, depending upon occupation. For example, radiation therapists only require an associate's degree, but must be certified or licensed in most states
Median Salary (2018) $71,850 (for technical writers )*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 11% (for technical writers )*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Program Criteria

Distance education programs allow institutions of learning to use technology to take learning to the student as opposed to the student coming to learning. In order for a program to be called 'distance education,' certain criteria have to be met. These criteria can include:

  • Teacher and student are separated
  • There must be an educational institution whereby the student can be evaluated
  • Educational media is used to provide content of the course and to bring together student and teacher
  • A means of two-way communication must exist between student and instructor

Advantages and Disadvantages

Educational institutions can reach a wider range of students through distance education programs. However, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to distance education programs.

  • Advantages
    • The ability to study at one's own pace
    • The ability to schedule classes and coursework around one's schedule
    • The ability to participate in discussions and courses with other students from a remote location
    • Distance education programs are often more affordable than their on-campus counterparts.
  • Disadvantages
    • Requires, on the part of the student, greater self-discipline and skills in time management
    • Distance education programs are socially isolating, i.e. less interaction of a social nature with other students
    • Distance education programs require more writing and reading than a traditional course

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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