. Advantages and disadvantages of Distance Education through the Internet
As every other thing, DE has its advantages and disadvantages. But it seems its advantages have tempted many people since it took such a rising trend over the last years. Perhaps it is appropriate to comparatively list advantages and disadvantages of DE, in order to allow everyone to develop an informed opinion on it.
DE has the great advantage of (1) not forcing students to move away from their homes to a campus often located very far away. And what could be more interesting than being at home and (2) able to study a field of your choice – and (3) only one if you wish – (4) at your own pace, not fearing that time is too short or the study materials are too large for a short amount of time? The student may choose to study at his/her free will, whenever he/she feels like it or whenever he/she has time for it. The institution can even be chosen (5) forgetting about the fact that it is located in Japan, Australia, Argentina or Canada. Therefore the study of a particular field is open to everyone in the world, irrespective of where that individual is located, not to mention that (6) the final level of education achieved is similar to that of TE and in some cases even superior to it. Thus (7) the study process becomes non-discriminatory, universities and other educational institutions having no interest in a particular citizenship required for student admissions, race, religious beliefs or a certain minimal level of income required. Students can even (8) have access to virtually limitless resources for the field chosen, being able to consult materials located anywhere in the world, if they are (in any form) available on the Internet. Audio, video and text materials are at hand and never ever the Library of Congress of the United States, or the Vatican library, or the Oxford library, have been closer to their “customers”.
A further advantage is that, without being continuous, (9) the communication involved in DL is almost instantaneous, just like real-time communication over the phone or in a discussion or a casual chat. Being therefore completely able to communicate with their colleagues, (10) students can further benefit from individual attention from the part of their teacher(s). This eliminates from the beginning the “classroom-type” competition and (11) provides each answer, opinion or case with a particular, pertinent and careful analysis of the teacher. Furthermore, it requests an answer from every student. Worthy of mention is the fact that (12) the duration of study for achieving a certain degree of education in a field of choice is sometimes smaller than in the case of TE. This, however, does not happen too often because for already “traditional” fields of study materials and reference resources are huge. As we have noted, (13) teaching methods for a single field of study can vary according to many criteria that can make the process more demanding, attractive, involving or challenging.
We may add that (14) the costs of the whole process can be considerably smaller compared to regular fees perceived by “traditional” universities for study. Costs can even be ten or more times smaller and in some cases DE (or at least basic training) is provided free of any charge. Take, for example, the admission fees requested by the Yale or Harvard University (or similar traditional universities in the US, Great Britain or Canada), situated at the level of several tens of thousands of US dollars, and an estimate amount of US$ 250 – 300 required for a course offered by the Open University of Great Britain.
Finally, we can say that together with technological advances, a whole lot of new, (15) totally “untraditional” fields of study appeared and are in need of future experts. These fields stay basically in the area of communications, and deal with computers, networks, high-speed communication devices, databases, the Internet and not only. These fields can only be studied on, and with the help of computers and the Internet, devices which seem, at this moment in time, to provide better backgrounds, resources and training than traditional studies.
The disadvantages of this method of study are not so many, but some of them can be rather discouraging for people who do not benefit from technological advances taken for granted in the most cases when distance study is concerned. These disadvantages, with only one or two exceptions, derive from each other. To name a few, we start with (1) the very object, or “tool” of study – computers. While in the US and almost all Western countries, computers are usual devices compulsory for every home, there are many countries in the world where having a computer represents an unaffordable luxury. The same is the case with (2) the Internet itself. If the number of computers per number of people ratio is small, this means the Internet is not at all present or accessible in that particular country or region.
Another case, under which unfortunately our country falls nowadays, deals with the problem of (3) connecting to the Internet. People may have computers and the Internet can strongly be represented to a sufficient extent in a particular area or country but connection tariffs are prohibitive. This happens either because of high phone call charges or because of high Internet providers’ charges, which drastically limit possibilities of connecting to the Net or limit the duration of time on-line.
If all the above-mentioned conditions are passed, that is a computer user has the possibility of connecting to the Internet for an affordable regular charge, another disadvantage can hinder his/her attempts. This is (4) the speed with which techniques and technologies advance and which may “outsmart” the possibilities of that user or of his/her updating possibilities. More explicitly, a user can find a suitable course on-line but all materials and resources are presented or available under a certain data format either unfamiliar (easier situation) or unavailable to decipher (harder situation). This brings us to another disadvantage: if someone wants to be able to overcome this technical “disability”, (5) he/she has to acquire a little more knowledge about computers, programmes, programming languages, software available or developing and so on.
A major disadvantage, from the point of view of education itself, is the fact that (6) DE is a restrictive process, that is it always centres on one specialisation at a time. This can limit the student’s possibilities and ultimately his/her cultural or professional development.
Talking about professional development, potential DE students can find themselves in the situation in which, after learning a lot in some particular field of study, (7) they find out all the learning is of no use to them. This usually happens when people want to learn more in a certain field just because they like it. Or, if the domain of their choice is either very new or based on particular training that obligatorily needs more than on-line learning, (8) students either cannot find any on-line reference material, or find very scarce resources or they are not allowed access to those existing on the Internet. This may happen very often in fact as resources on restrictive fields or certain highly desired material is kept by universities or TE institutions under restricted access allowed only for their own students.
Another disadvantage, which hopefully can only be temporary, could be that (9) the certification received after graduating an on-line educational course is not recognised by many institutions or not recognised at all. A bothering situation can be when a certain institution accepts that somebody is trained for a particular field but does not acknowledge the degree of study specified on the certification document issued as a result of graduating/completing a DE programme. In this case, additional training may be required. This situation may change however, taking into account that DE is implemented in more and more countries and in more and more areas than before.
Perhaps one of the last disadvantages is that (10) due to the overwhelming presence of English-language materials on the Internet, in almost all cases those willing to take an on-line course have to know English to a satisfactory degree to be able to actually use the reference material found everywhere on the Net. Nevertheless, in some cases DE systems are developed from the very beginning in the language of the country where the institution is based in, so that the students can study in their own language, but still a lot of reference material is to be found only in English.