What is distance learning?

Are you someone who likes to continually learn new things for professional and personal growth? If you answered “yes,” then you are likely a lifelong learner. Fitting this positive attribute into today’s busy lifestyles can be challenging. Distance learning provides a flexible, affordable and economical way to achieve your educational goals.

Simply put, learning that takes place outside the confines of a typical classroom environment – where you and the source of the information are separated by time, distance or both – can be defined as distance learning. For working adults it provides flexibility that makes possible the expansion of your knowledge base regardless of income, disability or age.

While distance learning may be a new concept to many adult learners who are veterans of traditional, classroom-based education, it has been successfully practiced for centuries by internationally renowned institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge. Many colleges in the U.S. accept credit awarded through distance learning or offer such programs themselves. One of these, Excelsior College, has been an accredited leader in this field for more than 40 years and focuses on meeting the needs of adult learners.

Online courses offered by colleges and universities cover the same subject matter taught in traditional classrooms, often by the same professors, and are growing in popularity. Online courses can provide you with energizing, interactive discussions with fellow students and instructors. Like those in classroom-based courses, you pay tuition and appropriate fees and may submit written assignments and take tests in order to receive grades and college credit.

Credit-by-examination programs offer motivated, independent learners the ability to study a specific subject matter at their own pace and then demonstrate mastery of the topic by taking an exam to earn college credit. You can prepare for exams using a variety of sources including standard textbooks, on-the-job training, and “open courseware” or college-level course material made available online for free by some of the nation’s top education providers. Regardless of the source, once confident in your preparation, you take an examination at one of the hundreds of secure facilities available around the country. To earn college credit for the successful completion of exams, it is important to make sure the exams have been recognized by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT). Examples of these include, Excelsior College Examinations (ECE’s), UExcel Exams (www.uexceltest.com), CLEP and DSST.

Portfolio assessments offer you the ability to complete a formal process called Prior Learning Assessment (PLA). The PLA approach offers you the opportunity to have your knowledge, regardless of where or how it was learned, evaluated by faculty members who will determine an equivalent level of college credit that could be awarded for knowledge demonstrated in the portfolio. One recent study conducted by the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL), found that 56 percent of students utilizing PLA continued on to earn their associate or bachelor’s degree, compared to 21 percent for their non-PLA peers.

Most adult learners combine two or more of these avenues to achieve their educational goals. Most important is that distance learning offers options that are flexible and academically challenging to meet the needs of any committed adult learner, especially those with some college but no degree.