Making a Plan
Distance learning is changing the rules for adult learners.
Once upon a time, if you wanted to take a college-level class, you had to be physically present on a specific campus, in a designated classroom at a prescribed time.
That made it hard on adult learners, who often have to juggle class attendance with regular job hours and family responsibilities.
With the advent and rapid growth of “distance learning” however, the old limitations are disappearing, because students can take many classes on their own schedules.
Typically, distance learning refers to online classes. However, students without computers and/or online connections can also access certain classes on television, DVD, video and audiotape, and sometimes through mail-delivered correspondence courses. Sometimes, two or more methods are used.
Online classes generally cost about the same as traditional classes. However, there can be significant savings in transportation costs and other collateral expenses, like childcare.
Distance learning is available at Florida state colleges and universities and also through many private, independent institutions, technical schools and others that offer specialized degrees and certifications.
Online: Pros & Cons
“Just because they [classes] are online, doesn’t mean they are easy,” stresses Tamara Mitchell-Beulah, a student who earned her paralegal degree from Jones College in 2011.
She advises students who are working full time to carefully assess how much they can handle well. Tamara feels fortunate that she was working full time for a law firm while taking her classes. “I got a lot more out of my education because I was living what I was studying,” she says.
Tamara’s tuition over three years, taking all her classes online, totaled about $18,000. She paid for it with scholarships, grants and loans, plus a bit of family help. She’s now working on her master’s degree in criminal justice/forensics from Nova Southeastern University.
It’s generally recommended that a student spend at least one study hour per week per credit hour. This means scheduling specific times for the activity — a challenge for some students. However, other students concentrate better with online classes.
UCF digital media major Sherry Bauerschmidt Hofmeister says she likes taking them because it helps her focus. “When I’m ready to get to work on that class, I shut the door and really get into it.”
Sherry changed her major from computer science when she was close to earning that degree. It was challenging to fill in new required classes, but distance learning made it more doable. “With online classes I can get the ones I need … without missing classes for my major that I would rather take on campus.”
Another drawback to online classes is that students who enjoy class discussions and constant contact with the teacher can feel short-changed. Most classes do include online discussions, however, and there may be required webinars where professors and students in the class are present online at the same time.
The bottom line: Do your research and talk to others who have opted for distance learning. It is not for everyone, but it may very well be for you.