Distance Online Education: Benefits, Options & Creating Your Program

Distance Online Education: Benefits, Options & Creating Your Program

Distance online education is the new way to offer flexibility for students - find out more in our guide.

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Tiago Youssef

Tiago Youssef

July 8, 2022

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Offering distance online education, especially degree programs, is becoming more popular. To help you design distance education courses, use this guide to discover the value of digital online education and build your program.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world that traditional education needs to change. Online universities, distance courses, and other online programs have proven themselves. Find out how to use educational technology and online instruction delivery methods to improve access to education.

What is Distance Learning?

Distance education is best understood in contrast to traditional classes. Since the 19th century, school teachers have stood before their students to lecture. Access to education improved, and literacy rates increased in many countries.

Distance education is the learning approach for the 21st century. This new model emphasizes online learning tools and digital resources to engage students. It combines both synchronous learning options (e.g., live chat and video conferencing) and asynchronous learning (e.g., digital textbooks, assignments, and videos).

Distance Learning Benefits: Why Offer Remote Learning?

Why are colleges, universities and other educational institutions investing more resources in distance online learning? There are a number of reasons.

Distance Learning Adds Flexibility

Distance learning is especially popular with adult learners who need a high level of flexibility. For example, an older student may want to earn a college degree by studying evenings and weekends. Educational institutions that offer an online learning experience can help these students achieve academic success..

It’s not just adults that want flexible remote instruction. Community colleges and a growing number of universities are offer online classes to reach more students. Distance education students are already finding a few universities that emphasize online approaches to instruction.

Athabasca University illustrates what is possible in remote learning. Established in 1970, the institution offers a a wide variety of distance learning degrees including A, B and C. The university has 38,000 undergraduate and 3600 graduate degree students. Over 80% of the university’s undergraduate students work while they study.

Distance Learning Courses Are More Affordable 

Affordability is a top concern for many students and educators today. Innovation in education like emphasizing alternative approaches to delivering education is a critical way to solve this challenge. By delivering academic programs via distance learning programs, there is less need to develop and maintain a large campus presence.

For example, consider the business program at Boston University. The online MBA program currently has a total fee of $12,000. In comparison, the traditional MBA degree at the same educational institution charges $61,000 in tuition. 

Hybrid Distance Education Appeals To Different Learning Styles

Hybrid distance education programs - a combination of in person and online options - is another benefit of adding online education to your institution. With a digital option, you can increase access to instruction. This option is especially important for faculty and students in high cost of living areas like the University of London.

Further, hybrid learning experiences can better use online tools like Arena Live Chat. Offering these kinds of real time apps makes the learning process more flexible. For example, some students may feel shy about raising their hand in hand. Some students may feel more articulate and comfortable writing out their questions in a chat bot. 

What Are The Different Types of Distance Learning?

Now that you know why distance learning is beneficial, what are your options to add it to your educational programs? There are three broad strategies to leverage distance education technologies.

Online School / Online College (i.e. 100% Digital)

The first path is to embrace a fully digital experience. In essence, this approach is the digital update to correspondence courses of the past. This type of education works in many disciplines like the humanities, arts and some social sciences. However, it is less suitable to areas like medicine and science. For example, it would quite challenging for Harvard Medical School to offer 100% remote education experiences to aspiring physicians.

Making the move to a fully digital college courses will likely require offering faculty development programs. Otherwise, student success may suffer. 

Hybrid Education

Hybrid education is the process of aiming to combine online courses with traditional in person courses. There are various ways to bring this combined approach to life. For example, you might offer two sections of the same course: one remote and another for on campus students. 

Alternatively, you might choose to offer virtual office hours. 

Striking a balance between in person class time, reasonable class size and using a variety of digital tools can be difficult. Regular surveys of faculty and students can help to ensure that education experiences are handled effectively.

Ad Hoc Access To Instruction

Some institutions aren’t ready to a remote education to their core educational experience. Another option is to take a bare-bones approach: use distance online education in a limited way. For example, your college writing center or math support might provide virtual drop in hours where students can get access to learner support.

In addition, you can use virtual learning tools as a way to provide access to external resources like videos or discussion boards. This ad hoc, limited approach also means minimal demands on campus support staff.

Creating Your Distance Online Education Program 

Even as the COVD-19 threat fades away, offering various forms of distance learning is worthwhile. Increased affordabiity and flexibility are sonme of the key benefits of distance learning.

Step 1: Assess Your Institution’s Goals and Challenges

Like decisions around class size and evaluations of instruction, adding distance learning to your school takes careful thought. 

Faculty Capabilities

Explore the faculty time investments required to convert in person courses to a virtual format. Don’t assume faculty digital fluency levels are all at the same level. Faculty support teams, especially when leveraging new technology, can play a critical role. 

Supports For Students

In addition, examine your current ecosystem of learner supports like tutors, librarians and other services to evaluate if they are ready for a digital world.

Student Body Profile

Finally, look at your institution’s history. There’s a big difference between a college that has had generation of distance education experience like Athabasca University and a college new to this challenge. Check whether your students include a significant number of parents or working professionals who may need different help from campus support teams.

Step 2: Select Your Distance Education Platform

Selecting the right mix of educational technology often ranks as one of the top challenges for institutions. The specific mix of tools you select will depend on the educational delivery modes you have adopted.

In general, there are a few types of tools required to provide an effecting educational experience to students.

  • Learning management systems (LMS). This is the online tool where faculty can boost additional resources, respond to discussion questions and accept homework.
  • Video conferencing tool. Video calls are a crucial tool in many types of courses, especially courses that emphasize discussions and debates.
  • Real time engagement tools. Adopting tools like Arena Live Chat or Live Blog go a long way toward making students feel more engaged in the learning process.

You will find a good example in Pecege Institute. It leverages Live Chat to keep students and educators engaged for its own online courses and white label products to its business clients.

Step 3: Create Your Distance Education Plan

The next step is to engage your faculty members, students and other stakeholders to discuss what kinds of courses to offer in a remote format. Use the following prompts to identify courses and programs suitable for online learning:

  • What courses and programs are unsuitable for online learning (e.g. medicine and science courses requiring lab work)?
  • What types of courses have been successfully offered online in other colleges?
  • What courses are students and faculty most interested in offering in a virtual format (e.g. the business school might already have part time commuter students who would love an online option)?

Step 4: Set Up Your Learning Support Team

Once you have a clear picture of which courses will be offered in an online format, set up your support staff. At a minimum, it is best to have a team of educational technology specialists on call to provide support. Ideally, the support team will also contribute suggestions to help faculty find success.

Step 5: Launch Your Online Education Course

With the preparations in place, invite your faculty members to start building their course in your institution’s learning management system. When you first launch remote learning, it’s normal to experience some glitches. It’s all part of the remote learning experience!

Step 6: Assess The Remote Learning Experience For 

As an educational institution, it’s vital to learn from your own experience. To that end, set up surveys with each course to find out what worked and what could be improved. For example, you might find that some students wanted more opportunities to ask questions and fewer long course videos.

Keep Teacher-Student Interaction At The Heart Of Education

As we conclude, it’s worth remembering that college and university is fundamentally a social experience. Students sign up for courses because they want the chance to make friends, learn from respected teachers and join an interesting community. To that end, your suite of educational technology needs to support interaction. Find out how Arena’s educational solutions enrich your courses and programs with deeper student engagement. 

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