For some students, distance education is preferable to on-campus, in-person education. There are several reasons to enroll in distance education. Often it is due to geography…you live in a remote or rural area with no convenient access to a post-secondary school. Or perhaps you like to learn at your own pace. Sometimes you have to juggle family, work, and education, and learning from home or at the office on a part-time basis is easier than headed to a classroom as well. Whatever the reason, distance education is very quickly becoming a viable option for many potential students.
There are several drawbacks to distance education. The most obvious is the lack of in-person communication with both the teacher and fellow students. Distance education is suited for students who are independent and self-sufficient, and comfortable working and learning alone. Comfort with computers and the ability to learn new technologies (as many courses are now offered online and thus require the learning of certain types of software) is also preferred for distance education students.
There are many forms of delivery. The traditional method is via printed correspondence. When you sign up for a distance education course you receive in the mail all the materials you will need to complete that course. You may have to buy a textbook. Sometimes the printed materials are supplemented by audiotapes, or CD-ROM’s can replace actual printed materials. Some schools offer a component of their distance education via TV. In this case they will pre-record or live broadcast course delivery materials at pre-determined times. This will supplement printed or online correspondence. Most institutions will, in addition to printed material, also offer distance education in an on-line format, with no printed materials at all. In this case the student needs access to a computer and the Internet.
If enough distance education students live in close proximity to one another, sometimes the teacher will organize mass tutorial sessions at a pre-determined location. This is intended to augment regular instruction and foster discussion on topical issues. Other times video conferencing is employed for the same effect.
In some distance education formats, face-to-face interaction is required at certain times. This can be at predetermined intervals (eg. once per week), or perhaps only during final exams. In most cases where some face-to-face interaction is required, this will happen at the school, although in some cases this can take place at other venues (such as the local community center for exams).
Dates and Timelines
Since one of the selling points of distance education is the ability to work at your own pace, many programs and courses are quite flexible with specific assignment deadlines. Students are allowed to begin their distance education course at a time of their choosing (with some exceptions where certain courses are only offered at the beginning of certain semesters, or sometimes monthly), and students have between 4-8 months to complete all aspects including final exams. This allows greater flexibility for students who are juggling post-secondary education with family or work commitments.
For many institutions, especially the community colleges, just about all offered courses are also available in a distance-education version. Exceptions are courses that include a hands-on aspect (eg. science courses with a lab component, drama, medicine, etc.). Subjects that lend themselves to distance education include finance and business, social sciences, and most general arts. In community college, many continuing education courses are also offered as in a distance education version, which is particularly useful for people who are currently in the workforce but want to upgrade their skills or prepare for a career change.
Generally, you must already be a student with the school you wish to take distance education courses from. If you are not already a student, you have to register according to those schools’ general admission requirements. Specific courses will have specific requirements and prerequisites, just like a traditional in-person course. There may also be requirements for certain access to computers (eg. the Internet if you are taking the distance education course on-line.)
Be aware that as distance education courses are generally more flexible with their start and end dates, and can take up to 8 months to complete, this may affect your Canadian Student Loan (which require courses to be completed in certain time frames).
Degrees, certificates, and diplomas
Generally, distance-education courses count as credit towards a degree, certificate, or diploma. Every school has a different policy regarding the quantity of distance education courses allowed for completion; some schools require at least some of the courses taken to be in-person. However, many schools now offer 100% distance-education-based degrees, certificates, and diplomas. In fact there are several completely on-line universities in Canada: University of Fredericton, Meritus University, and Lansbridge University. At these schools you can take an entire degree without stepping foot in the classroom (and in fact, these universities are virtual with no physical classrooms anyways). These institutions, despite being virtual campuses, are accredited by the New Brunswick Department of Labor.
In Alberta, there exists “eCampus Alberta”, which is a consortium of 15 post-secondary schools that collaborate to facilitate distance and online education for Alberta students. Students who sign up for the 400 available courses can count those courses as credit towards a degree at any of the participating schools, and credits are also transferable to some other schools. In this way students are afforded additional flexibility that is very useful when wanting to acquire a degree entirely online or without having to commute from remote locations.