Greetings fellow distance learning enthusiasts

At some point during the past 12 years I have become a distance learning enthusiast. It is true that I studied by distance learning while living in Germany, when my poor grasp of the local language procluded me from studying at a local university. It is also true that I studied by distance learning while trying to juggle a demanding managerial role and a new baby – the flexibility allowed me to study at odd hours and in odd places. (It is amazing how much you can learn during a crowded one-hour train commute when armed with a highlighter pen in one pocket and post-it notes in another while reading a text book precariously balanced on your right knee and writing notes in a notepad precariously balanced on the left knee.) However, it is also true to say that I wasn’t enthusiastic when I had an assignment due or an exam looming.

My enthusiasm has come from working in distance learning and watching how it has evolved with the rise of the World Wide Web and the Internet. It has transformed at such a rapid rate and consequently millions of people around the world who might not otherwise have been able to benefit from education because of work commitments, carer commitments, disability, financial hardship, geographical location and so on, have been able to engage in learning out of personal interest, for continuing professional development, or to obtain undergraduate or postgraduate education. Distance learning makes education ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘exclusive’ – a principle that sits well with me. I have been priviledged to attend graduation ceremonies and hear story after story of how distance learning has changed someone’s life for the better. It opens people’s minds, creates opportunities and helps earn promotions – ultimately it is life changing. It is rewarding to play a small role in this.

Although this rapid development has benefitted many, the downside is that the quality of distance learning is very varied as many new education organisations have emerged to ‘make a buck’. Universities that have engaged in quality face-to-face teaching for centuries are slow to respond to the rise of distance learning and cautious about the impact it might have on their traditional infrastructure. Although those of us who work with quality distance learning know that distance learning can be at least equal to face-to-face learning, the perception of distance learning remains varied, to the point that some graduates do not wish their degrees to say that their course was delivered via a distance in case an employer sees it as holding less value. These are just some of the challenges that those of us who work in distance learning must address.

There is a growing array of literature about distance learning available, however few have the time to wade through it all. I have created this blog to bring issues raised in the distance learning literature to the attention of distance learning enthusiasts like myself. I hope it will prompt thought, discussion and ultimately benefit distance learning, the students who undertake it and the educationalists who create and teach it.

Your comments and thoughts are always welcome.


About Cathy Thomas-Varcoe

I have a passion for distance learning and the opportunities it provides for lifelong learning. I have spent the past 11 years focussing on delivering quality distance learning. Drawing on my nursing background, I initially worked for the Royal College of Nursing Institute who ran undergraduate and postgraduate distance learning programmes validated by the University of Manchester and then for The Open University Health and Social Care Faculty. More recently I was a learning solutions consultant for The Open University’s Centre for Learning and Professional Development. In January 2012 I was appointed as the Distance Learning Lead for the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester. I have been involved in courses from concept to delivery, but the bulk of my work has focussed on writing and conceptualising distance learning courses.
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2 Responses to Greetings fellow distance learning enthusiasts

  1. Josip Lovric says:

    My first contact with distant learning was (second hand only) also in Germany, my brother enrolled on a distance learning degree, after 2/3 he switched to a traditional form of learning…..and became a tutor, teaching his fellow students from the material he used a year earlier o his distant learning course. I think what we can learn from this is that the structure of distant learning course probably has to be better than from more traditional courses (which it will be in most cases) but that the main challenge is the interaction with others, peers and staff, which is really the critical point in student experience.


    • Thank you for your comment Josip. Yes, the student experience can definately be enhanced through interaction using Web 2.0 and other technologies. I have recently been taking part in some trials for virtual conferencing tools and have been excited by the opportunities they provide. It is well documented (see, for example, Swan 2001) that students who felt they had more interaction thought their course was more beneficial and consequently student satisfaction was higher.

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