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In my continuing quest to pour some light on the often confusing world of online learning, I want to look at distance learning courses – one of the earliest forms of academic learning set outside of the four classroom walls.

Like tutoring, distance learning has made a steady progression towards being a fully fledged online service, mainly thanks to its reliability and symbiotic relationship with communication. Taking it way back, distance learning was most likely thought up as a concept here in Britain, indeed the University of London claims to have offered distance learning  degrees back in 1858.

The 19th century had seen massive improvements to the postal service, and this was the medium through which people could undertake courses otherwise not readily available to them. Most famously, Trowbridge born Isaac Pitman taught his version of shorthand to people throughout the land in this manner.

Today, distance learning courses have continued to move in line with technology and are played out online. In the USA, online courses, be them a whole degree or a single module, are steadily increasing in popularity – almost a million more students enrolled in online classes in 2010 than in 2009 (according to the Sloan Survey of Online Learning). The USA is a huge country with vast areas of rurality juxtaposed with busy city landscapes, so for me it is entirely understandable to see where this growing trend in what is, let’s be honest, convenient learning comes from – in previous posts I’ve looked at the way online learning can combat rurality.

The UK equivalent of these increasingly popular web-based learning institutions is of course the Open University; the worlds first successful distance learning Uni that was set up to offer degree level teaching to people who had not had the opportunity to access traditional campuses, for whatever the reason.

To date it is the UK’s biggest University with a staggering 25,000 students, 1,200 full-time academic staff and 7,000 tutors.

When weighing up which online learning path to take you have to look at the benefits of each option before you make a decision. Distance learning courses suit some more than others; it’s all about individual circumstance, for example Some 12,000 students with disabilities take an OU course each year. I’m no expert, but it could be that the well organised and convenient nature of distance learning courses is far more appealing to people today than at any time before.

So that’s distance learning in a nutshell, it may or may not be for you, but it’s worth knowing about all the same.

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