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Distance learning vs. face to face classes: which is best?

For many of us, there comes a point in our professional lives when we feel the need to learn new skills, or formalise the knowledge we’ve gained over the years. This could actually happen at several points throughout our careers, for a variety of reasons. There may be a desire to progress more quickly in our current line of work, or to move into an entirely new industry. Whatever the motivation, the best solution is often to engage in some form of professional study that enhances practical capabilities and leads to a recognised qualification.

If you’ve been thinking about further study to boost your career, then it’s likely that the first questions you have considered are whether you can commit enough time to a new course, and when you may be able to attend classes. When researching the possibilities you have probably found a number of options, which may include your local college or other training organisations in your area.

It’s likely that you’ve also come across a variety of distance learning providers which offer the opportunity to gain your chosen qualification without attending face to face classes. Far from answering your earlier questions about where and when to study, this level of choice may actually cloud the decision-making process and lead to a sense of inertia.

We’re in the privileged position of having trained thousands of students over the years, so we understand the motivations for choosing to study by distance learning, and the challenges that people sometimes face along the way. Taking that experience into account, here are five key points you should consider when deciding whether to enrol on a traditional course or study from home.

1. When do you want to start studying?

Having made the decision to return to education, you’re bound to be highly motivated and keen to get started. You may find, however, that certain courses have restrictive enrolment dates tied to the academic year. This can be an issue if you’re ready to study in January and the next course doesn’t start until September. If you’re chomping at the bit then distance learning may provide the flexibility to get started straight away and make the most of your current level of determination.

2. How quickly do you want to gain your qualification?

In a similar vein, distance learning allows you to work through the course content at your own pace, rather than sticking to a class timetable. This can be useful if you have more spare time than the average student, or a desire to achieve your qualification in a shorter time scale. If you’re happy to progress at a pre-determined pace then this isn’t so much of an issue.

3. Are you self motivated?

The points above clearly demonstrate the benefits offered by the flexibility of distance learning, but there’s no denying that this does also present a challenge for some people. Successful distance learning students have a strong will to succeed and high levels of self motivation – although you will have support from an expert tutor, you are essentially in charge of your own progression.

If you’re the kind of person who struggles with self imposed deadlines, then you may fare better on a traditional course where you are obliged to attend classes and submit work for assessment at specific times.

4. Do you want to make new friends through studying?

When attending face to face classes it’s very common to meet likeminded people who go on to become valuable study buddies or even close friends. If you’re excited about the social aspect of studying then this is definitely going to be enhanced in a traditional classroom environment. However, that doesn’t mean that distance learning can’t offer a level of social interaction.

Nowadays, many distance learning providers have internet platforms that allow students to share information and engage with their peers. If this social aspect is important to you then look for a course which offers participation in live online classes or forums.

5. Can you commit to attending classes every week?

This is often the biggest sticking point for potential students. We all have such busy lives, with existing work, family and social commitments, that it can be tough to make it to class each and every week. You need to be honest about your ability to carve out a set amount of time each week. The last thing you want is to sign up for a course and find that you miss so many lessons that it impacts on your ability to pass. With distance learning, it’s still advisable to set aside a certain number of hours for study each week, but you’re in control of when you fit this into your schedule. Miss a day and you can always catch up at another time.

When enrolling on any course, it’s essential that you choose the option most likely to help you succeed. What works for one person may not work for another, so do your research carefully and pick the route that best fits your lifestyle and preferred study habits.

Tara Murray

Tara Murray

Posted April 11, 2016
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