Barriers to Distance Learning
While distance learning seems like a great tool, problems for students can arise. I can speak from experience that it takes magnificent amount of discipline to be able to take classes online. It may not always be easy to force yourself to go to class at 8pm on Monday night after a hard days work, but you know that schedule is in place. Often times with learning online, there are no set times. Students tend to procrastinate even more when they know they do not have to go to a classroom to turn in their work. Having classroom hours regulates your life and almost forces you to manage your time wisely. The same is true for working from home. For example, if a report is due by the end of the day at work I would complete it as soon as possible because I would not really have anything else to do if I didnít exert my energy on the report. However, if I were home working on the report, there are plenty of other events I could do instead. Hence, I would procrastinate on the report leaving myself just the right amount of time to get it done by the end of the day. This is why it is crucial for students to exert self discipline.
††††††††††† Other complications that students may come across include lack of motivation, insecurities, lack of feedback and contact, and lack of support. As mentioned above, students must have self discipline. Part of that entails being a self motivator as well. It is easier to motivate yourself to get up and get ready for a class that you know starts at a certain time than it is to get ready for something that has no beginning time. While I have found this to be the most case for online classes, this may not always be the case. Some universities have live chat rooms for students where they must sign in at a certain time and often are required to be on for a certain amount of time.
††††††††††† Insecurities are originated in both personal and school related issues. According to a research done at University of Southern Mississippi distant learners are more likely to have insecurities than traditional students about learning. Students can be insecure about the costs of distance learning. While the costs are cheaper to implement online learning as opposed to classroom, that does not necessarily mean it is cheaper for students. For instance, it costs the same to take an online class at KSU as it does to take one in the classroom. In addition, you still have to buy the books (most of the time) and you must have the right technology to access the information. Most homes currently have computers in them, but when you are downloading massive amounts of material it helps to have faster, up-to-date technology. Not to mention the software needed to complete required projects and costs associated with paying an internet service so that you can access your online class. Insecurities can also arise from family disruption. I only have one husband (thank god) and two dogs and I find it almost impossible to do anything when they are all around. I cannot imagine what it must be like for someone living with their parents, siblings, friends, grandparents, or others. It is a constant distraction not to mention sometimes bad influences. Then students grow insecure about being capable of doing their class work from home or online.
††††††††††† As I mentioned earlier on in the paper, it is my belief that some people are always going to need some form (if not all forms) of human interaction. One disadvantage of distance learning is definitively the lack of contact and feedback the student has with teacher. When you are in a classroom environment you have the opportunities to be able to ask the professor questions then and there, and have immediate answers. This is not the case with online learning unless you are in a live chat room. While I think the teachers I have had experience with are good at getting back to you in a timely manner, there is still a lag time of information being exchanged. Frustration can surface from not being able to get answers from your professors in a timely manner or simply just not being able to talk with them face-to-face.
††††††††††† One final barrier is lack of services and support. When on campus there are tutors, laboratories, assistants, and material provided by the school such as planners. Not to say that those same services and support can not be provided off campus, but they are much more easily accessible if you are on campus. For example, if I am night owl and I work best when writing my paper at midnight, I can not run to the school to get assistance from a computer technician if I am having problems. Even if I were a classroom student I still would not be able to run to KSU for help at midnight, but when I went to school for my class I would be able to ask then. If I never have to go to school, then chances are that I am not going to want to go when I stumble upon a little problem. It is the human theory of laziness. I may really want a coke, but I do not want to run out to the store to get one. But if I run out of toilet paper I have to go to the store and since I am already there I might as well get some coke. Other forms of support at KSU are study groups, clubs, or organizations in which students choose to participate. Often times study groups are a huge help when it comes to studying for a test, or just being your motivation when you need to get your project done. Students learning via online or at home lack that type of support and often are criticized by those who do not understand the concept of distance learning. Being involved in clubs or organizations helps people to manage their time better. There are several studies that show students involved in extracurricular activities do better in their school work. While those studies are done for high school grades and below, I think the theory can apply across the board for college students and even adults working in the real world. For those learning from home, not only do they lack the scheduled time of classes, but they also lack the ability to be a part of school activities. Not having these social interactions can also lead a student to become isolated. These are key reasons why it takes a strong, motivated, self disciplined person to be able to handle distance learning.
The same characteristics a distance teacher must have are the same as a distance learner. Students are always going to need the skills to write a report, take a test, or participate in a project whether they learn in the classroom or a form of distance learning. Teachers, however, require more skills when teaching in distance learning. While I believe that faculty may come across some of the same problems as students, there are even more problems for them. Troubles may arise due to lack of training, lack of support, inadequate faculty selection, and lack of acceptance. Often times the coursework for both traditional and distance students are the same. However, there are other times when the coursework is in fact very different. If a professor is accustomed to preparing material to teach in a classroom environment, it may be incredibly difficult for them to prepare the work in a dissimilar manner or to prepare distinctive material in general for the distance learners. In other words, it might involve more effort up front and more obstacles for the professor to overcome. Teachers may need training in preparing coursework for distance learning, in addition to training for the use of technology. I would like to believe that faculty is already using technology in their classrooms, but for those who are not trained with computers and the like, they may need the preparation for teaching an online course. It is imperative that the distance teachers are able to troubleshoot problems and assist in technical difficulties the students may encounter. If they lack the equipment and training needed to institute distance learning, they are less likely to accept this method of learning.
††††††††††† One of the biggest problems teachers may stumble upon is lack of support. As mentioned above, teachers may have to adapt to teaching distance learning. This requires changing their teaching styles, possibly the material, and their roles. Maybe not so at recognized universities, but in other schools distance learning will possibly have older students. Students who are older and want to be educated in a field, but do not want to go back to the classroom find themselves taking classes online. They must be able to meet the needs of all their students, and not just the traditional type. Faculty must change their teaching styles to fit that of a tutor, mentor, and facilitator where face-to-face interaction is not always prevalent. More times than not, faculty members do not even get the chance to see their students, but they must be available for them when needed. A facultyís role changes from presenting the material in a classroom environment to making sure that information is available to those learning from a distance. To concur all of the tasks mentioned above can be challenging, and often feel like a nuisance to the teacher or administrator. If educators let this feeling overcome what distance learning has to offer, often times they will not promote the investiture of distance learning. †
††††††††††† Another problem facing teachers is the threat of not being able to obtain their tenure due to teaching classes through a distance program. At some schools and universities, classes taught online are not accredited to the student or the faculty. They may not count as hours or as a class if the student were to transfer. For faculty, at certain universities and schools, distance learning will not count towards their tenure consideration. Hopefully, with the growth of distance learning, this will not be a problem for students or teachers in the future. For now, it serves as a deterrent for facilitating or taking a distance class. In addition, if distance programs can not be accredited for, then they will lose respect and desirability for wanting to teach that type of class.
††††††††††† The last barrier is teacher acceptance of distance learning. If there is something that I do not particularly enjoy doing, but I am forced to do it anyways, then I may not do it properly. In other words, if teachers are forced to teach distance classes when they do not wish to, then the results will not be desirable. However, if universities and schools select teachers who have an aspiration for participating in distance learning then the product will be that much better. Teachers who have the passion to teach distance programs are superior to those who do not wish to teach in that type of environment.