I am currently pursuing my second Master's, this time in English. For me, these are the toughest classes I have ever taken. I have come to realize that I enjoy the educational and academic banter and discussions that accompany in-class work. Unfortunately, as a teacher, I have little time to actually go to school. On-line classes are my only option.
On the other hand, I must say that I enjoy the fact that everything that I do is self-motivated. I cannot rely on the quips of others to push me in the right direction. So, I really love this aspect of distance learning.
My impressions of distance learning thus far have not been terribly positive, but I'm not sure I know the solution (other than to avoid those classes, which is becoming more and more difficut in some areas). In one class, students around me were so busy chatting and ignoring the instructor that I couldn't hear what was being said "on-screen". In several classes that meet irregularly, instructors would post assignments online at the last minute, and many of us who had not been online found out about the assignments when they were already late. A possible solution to that problem, I believe, would be to have a certain time or times each week that students are expected to check online for messages or assignments--or maybe a window of time, for example, everyone is expected to check for messages and assignments between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 6 p.m. Wednesday. Or maybe instructors should not post assignments randomly online, but deliver those requirements in class at the course's beginning or in the syllabus.
Given that the very nature of distance learning implies a separation between students and students as well as between students and their instructor, the social aspect of it is likely impossible to address. In my experience with online classes, the group assignments were often relatively tedious and I don't think they were effective in addressing the feeling of separation. In some ways I was taking the class because I wasn't interested in or didn't have time for social aspects of traditional learning.
I think that if good discussions are set up and managed thoughtfully by the instructor, you can access some of the advantages of group thinking and discussion without trying to artifically force social interaction.
I teach fully online these days, too, and I occasionally take online classes. It seems that online is not for everyone - some people feel genuinely disconnected from their class and classmates. For others (myself included), it is very convenient and the asynchronous format really helps participate in the class (I was one of the quiet kids in class myself).
That being said, if social disconnection is the main disadvantage, it can be helped in a couple of ways. One is to start the semester with an introductory discussion in which students post pictures of themselves and tell each other about their major, their hobbies and interests, and so on. This at least gives students the sense that their online classmates are "real" not virtual people.
Another solution is to incorporate into the scheudle weekly real-time chat sessions for anyone who wants or is able to participate. Some classrooms have this feature already. Alternatives are using a program like Elluminate, which allows for audio teleconferencing, or even Skype (or another similar service) which allows for videoconferencing. These sorts of features can be made optional, or might be used close to midterms and finals for anyone wanting a review.
I think the key is that a good distance learning instructor works towards the same goals as a traditional classroom teacher, just using different methods. I think you have to create opportunities to interact with the students online and for the students to interact with each other online. The difference is this may have to be more forced than it is when you are all in the same room. You cannot just offer chat boards and google docs for interaction, you have to REQUIRE that students use these interactive tools and you as the instructor have to be the one who keeps them moving and fresh. You have to be constantly on the lookout for new ways for your students to learn online and interact accordingly. I think it also important to address the idea of differentiated instruction, but the answer is the same. There are innumerable tools for students online or where they live but you have to compile them, make them accessible to your students, and require them to use them.
Because distance learning is so much more independent than a traditional classroom, you may find it is more work for you as the instructor to meet these needs with certain students.
I currently teach online at both the high school and graduate level. The advantage is the flexibility. You can learn online anywhere at any time, to a certain extent. The disadvantage is that distance learning requires a person to be able to work independently. When you do need help, you can only get it through the internet or phone. This can begin to feel very isolating at times.
When I was teaching distance learning for a community college, they recorded class sessions which instructors could then make available to students at their discretion. That was pretty nice because one real negative about traditional distance learning is that it's hard to explain things to your students. Using this capability (it was called Mediasite), we could have students actually watch our classes and listen to us explain key concepts, etc. That was quite useful.
Distance learning is defined by Wikipedia.com:
Distance education or distance learning, is a field of education that focuses on teaching methods and technology with the aim of delivering teaching, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional educational setting such as a classroom. It has been described as 'a process to create and provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both.'
In terms of "distance learning," the obvious disadvantages, to my mind, include—first and foremost—the loss of interaction with teacher and classmates. When information is presented by the instructor in the traditional classroom, students have the opportunity to ask questions for clarification, and to hear other students' ideas and questions. All of this contributes to the learning experience. For the student who is learning on an individual basis, as opposed to a class that "meets" online at a certain time to "blog," the disadvantages seem obvious based on the above-mentioned circumstances..
In terms of solutions to these disadvantages, student who are being educated individually would benefit from a real-time question and answer session with other students who are also being educated by distance learning. This would create something akin to the traditional classroom, and allow students to converse in an open forum where a "class" is taking place—the spontaneity of real-time interactions, even via comments being typed, is much more advantageous. If a "classroom" setting is provided based on students coming together online at the same time, this would enhance the experience for the student.
The advantages of distance learning are far-reaching. If a student is physically unable to attend a class, for example, because of illness or a physical impediment, these kinds of classes open doors that are otherwise closed to those students. It can also be an advantage for those living in outlying areas where colleges do not exist. In these cases, students do not lose the opportunity of learning based on the limitations of geographical location. However great the advantages are, however, it would seem that adding the component of interaction with others is extremely advantageous.
One of the disadvantages that has come up with distance learning is that, with this service, it is hard to differentiate students by their specific academic need since the majority the programs that are available via distance learning are asynchronous (the teacher is not "live" with the student).
Yet, how can we help students who have learning issues in an asynchronous learning environment?
A good solution for this disadvantage is to re-visit the budget used for distance learning programs and invest it on wireless devices for instructors to maintain consistent communication with their students. One cannot assume that all instructors have Blackberries or iPads Therefore, if the institution can provide these devices for the use of the teacher throughout the term of the course, chances are that the teacher will be able to either text, email, call, or chat with the student anywhere.
Hence, students who need the extra help will be able to find their instructors faster and clarify their questions quicker.
As a teacher who has taught and studied by distance, I think I am able to offer some ideas, though you might want to post this in the discussion section of this group to gain more responses than just mine.
One of the big disadvantages of distance learning is that you are part of a disparate group of students who may not actually ever see each other virtually. One of the central ways that we learn is by working with other students and trying to gain meaning together, supporting each other and teaching and listening to each other. Distance learning courses therefore must try to create some form of "virtual classroom" where the exchange of ideas can happen. Fortunately there are many internet tools now such as wikis and forums that allow for the interchange of views, ideas and questions. I have done on-line group assignments that have required us to write an essay as a group, or create an online presentation as a group. This has forced me to exchange ideas and communicate with fellow students, thus helping the learning process.
In distance learning teachers who teaching to the students are have to teaches well to the students. By that students can perform well in the exam. In distance learning some practicals should be added to learn in more effective way.