Distance learning has quickly evolved to become a major learning avenue. Years ago distance learning consisted of mail correspondence, video tapes or watching specific television shows on Public Broadcasting, but it wasn’t long before this structure went extinct.

As the Internet steadily gained popularity, learning institutions quickly replaced traditional forms of distance learning and integrated web-based learning instead. As virtual classrooms were developed, they rapidly proved to be a winning success for both students and universities.

Today new and returning students have a variety of learning options thanks to being able to take college courses online. Online college degrees have given many students accessibility as they wouldn't have been able to go to college the ability to pursue their educational dreams. The virtual classroom provides students with the chance to attend college right from the comfort of one's home.

While online learning is a terrific opportunity, it is not for everyone. There are some definitive pros and cons associated with taking college courses online. Before you sign up for any course or program, it is a good idea to evaluate all the advantages and disadvantages that come with distance learning.

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Advantages of Distance Learning

Flexibility and Convenience

The flexibility that distance learning allows is probably the biggest advantage of pursuing a degree program online. You can log in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to attend class. If you go on vacation or a business trip, no problem, bring along a laptop or other mobile device and you have access to your course. You don't have to put your personal schedule on hold to attend your classes.

While you will have deadlines on assignments like you would in any other classroom, you won't have to make a mad dash after work or worry about getting stuck in traffic to take your exam or hand in your paper. You simply log into your class at your convenience and submit your work within the allotted time-frame. It is important to remember to plan though, there may be times you have to log in at a specified time for a conference, test or other event. Be sure ahead of time you have a good connection. Don't wait until the last minute.

No Commuting

Another advantage of taking courses online is you don't have to commute. You can save time, money and wear on your car. You'll never have to fear being late for class. This also frees up more time so you can do other things and not spend these hours traveling back and forth to campus.

Builds Writing Skills

A fantastic advantage is the opportunity to grow your writing skills. Since most discussions take place in text format in the online classroom, you have to write your contributions to class discussions and any other correspondence with your professor and fellow classmates. In my experience, written discussions were required in every course with a specified minimum number of posts required.

This is a great way to build your writing skills. After a few online courses you're likely to find your writing more developed and much stronger.

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Larger Selection of Colleges to Choose From

One excellent advantage of taking classes online is that it opens up your educational opportunities. Today's students are no longer relegated to local colleges, you have a wide variety of degree programs to choose from because most accredited colleges today offer at least some online programs (just beware of diploma mills).

This also widens your ability to choose what kind of degree you want to pursue.  Online colleges are a good option for transfer students too. If universities in your town, or state, do not have a program that meets your desires or needs, you can look at schools across the country and find one that matches what you're looking to pursue.



One drawback is some students find they don't like learning in an isolated environment and miss the in-person interaction of the classroom. While online classes communicate through discussion and community boards, this environment doesn't always have the same personalization as talking to your classmates sitting next to you does.

There are some terrific tools in place to help facilitate the flow of communication and ability to have personal contact in online classes, but it's not the same as carrying a conversation in person.

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Need Strong Time Management skills

A possession of strong time management is an essential for the distance learning student. If you cannot effectively set your objectives and meet deadlines while balancing the rest of the activities in your life, then distance learning may not be for you.

Distance learning takes a lot of self-discipline and it is not "easier" than in classroom courses. Many students mistakenly take online classes thinking it will be an easy grade and find out this is furthest from the truth.

Academic Resources

While most colleges do offer academic support, this is more challenging in the online learning environment. Students cannot drop by a tutoring center or attend extra help professors sometimes offer. Also it is more difficult to find a study group with fellow students. Today's universities are trying to integrate these services as best as the online platform can allow, but the student often has to vigorously pursue these opportunities and search them out.


Most online programs carry an extra fee for technology to help offset the costs of maintaining servers and other technical devices needed to run an online program. It isn't usually a tremendous fee, but it is an extra expense. However, to be fair, now that even traditional classrooms are using a technology component too, this probably isn't as much as an issue as it used to be five to 10 years ago.

There are many pros and cons to continuing your education through distance learning. The best way to evaluate whether or not this is right for you is to look within yourself, your personal study habits and also consider your time restraints. Once you take a close look at these, it will be much easier to make your decision.

[ Related Reading: How to Succeed in the Virtual Classroom ]