Distant but within reach

Online learning doesn’t mean isolation, limitations
By Eva Weidman
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/03/2014

Distance learning has moved from pen and paper correspondence courses to an interactive, self-directed learning experience delivered online or electronically. It’s convenient, accessible and flexible — ideal for busy HR professionals.


How does it work?

Students register for courses at the university or college of their choice by selecting a program and a specific course. Once they have selected a course, registered with the post-secondary institution and made the necessary financial transactions, they will receive instructions on how to access the course. This includes a username and password to provide course access from home or a business computer.


Every college or university has its own template for setting up and delivering the distance course but typically students find an introductory section, an assignment section and a number of modules to work through.


Instructors are available through the course communication channel, most often by email, for discussions and questions. Some distance courses have specific assignment deadlines while others are completely self-directed, meaning students can send in their work at any time throughout the course.


Chat times and discussions boards may be used. The instructor may have an open forum discussion board for students to post questions, comments or progress for student and instructor input.


In more interactive courses, specific chat rooms may have designated discussion times involving the entire class. These are usually set up so students can view the discussion if they are not able to attend at a specific time.


Courses can be delivered in a variety of other formats including online video, downloadable text or photo course materials, live-streaming of lectures, online libraries, physical textbooks or library books and DVDs.


Most distance courses are available through a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Desire2Learn. Every post-secondary institution has a preferred LMS to deliver distance courses.


Advantages

Shift work, child care, disability, transportation costs, a heavy workload — all of these former barriers for adult lifelong learners are no longer obstacles to post-secondary education when distance learning is offered.


Another advantage is the learning is self-directed and self-paced so if a student has difficulty understanding a specific topic, he can spend more time and ask more questions than in a group learning environment. On the other hand, if a student is a quick study, he can move ahead in the course.


Not for everyone

Even with all the benefits of distance education, it is not for everyone. Distance learning requires discipline and time management skills.


It can be hard to manage life’s demands and stick to a learning schedule.


A student’s learning style plays a big role in distance education. Those who enjoy classroom interaction or who are easily distracted, technologically challenged or lack reliable Internet access may find distance education does not work.


There are numerous online tools that can assess student readiness and potential success in distance education (see sidebar).

Distance education gives HR professionals an opportunity to reach their full potential by providing flexible and innovative programming.


Eva Weidman is a program facilitator at the Applied Arts & Communication School of Continuing Education at Red River College in Winnipeg. She can be reached at (204) 949-8353 or eweidman@rrc.ca.

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