Distance learning has been growing in popularity in recent years but has really come into its own as a method of study in the wake of the pandemic, given broadly changing attitudes and perceptions regarding education and the future of work.
This reality has, however, also led to an increasing number of fly-by-night operations focused on exploiting this opportunity, which is why prospective students must carefully consider the offering of an institution – and the likelihood of successful study which will open doors to careers – before enrolling, an education expert says.
“Distance learning was historically the study option of choice for those who wanted to further their education but could not do so via full-time degree study, for whatever reason. In recent years, however, distance learning has become the option of choice for those who want to up-skill quickly, re-skill, or simply gain the proof of skills required to access a certain field,” says Danette Heyns, Head of Academics at Oxbridge Academy, a leading private college that serves more than 20 000 distance learning students every year.
“This trend is set to continue as more and more employers recognise the value of proof of skills rather than demanding a lengthy, formal, mostly academic post-school educational qualification.”
Heyns says prospective students need to recognise that while distance learning can be a fantastic and effective path towards earning a qualification, it can also be a tremendous challenge and even potential disaster if the wrong approach is followed.
“Just the thought of distance learning can put some off, particularly those people who have heard the horror stories emanating from people who attended less than desirable institutions. For instance, we’ve all heard about frustrating registration processes, applications getting lost in the mail, study materials not arriving or being sub-standard, scheduling problems, lack of support, and so forth.
“Distance learning requires discipline and organisation on the part of the student, so if the inherent requirements for success are hamstrung by institutional incompetence, it is no wonder that some struggle to make a success of their journey.”
So, here is what to look out for if you are considering distance learning:
Have a look at the institution’s website. Is it professional and logically organised? If you reach out to them, are they quick to respond or do emails and messages bounce back or go unanswered? If you don’t even get great assistance and the information and advice you seek this early in the game, you can be sure that the struggle is going to be real down the line.
Track record and qualifications
How long has the institution been in business, and what is the extent of their offering? Ideally you don’t want to study with someone who hasn’t been around for less than 20 years, or which offers only a handful of qualifications. Building a quality institution and offering isn’t something that can be done overnight, and being able to offer a wide range of accredited and recognised qualifications shows that your institution is a credible one.
One of the biggest challenges of distance learning students is the feeling of isolation – the feeling that they are studying alone. Great support on the part of the institution is perhaps one of the biggest influences on whether a student will be successful or not. Find an institution whose value proposition is clear – that they are always within reach, easily accessible, and are able to provide quick and effective support when needed.
“Distance learning offers a tremendous opportunity to prospective students to change their lives and prospects for the better,” says Heyns.
“And if you do your homework and find an institution that offers a qualification in the field which interests you, while also being able to provide the support that is absolutely crucial for this mode of study, you can be almost certain of success if you are committed.”