Distance Learning: What To Know

student studying

Distance Learning Overview

Distance learning (or distance education) are terms that apply to instruction that takes place when students and instructor are in different places. Instruction and teacher-student communications are accomplished through various media, such as the Internet and videotape.

Distance learning courses often are appropriate for people with busy lifestyles and scheduling problems. Typically, instead of attending regular classes, students use the Internet, video tapes or other media to work independently, though interactive video classes require class attendance in a specially equipped classroom.

Course content, college credit, and transferability of distance learning courses are the same as for campus-based courses, and distance learning students have the same rights, privileges and obligations as on-campus students.

Distance learning courses are as vigorous as on-campus courses and require AT LEAST as much dedicated time. Typically, successful students report spending more time - not less - on a distance learning class than they do for a regularly scheduled, campus class.

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Self Assessment:  Is Distance Learning for Me?

Not all students are well suited to distance education. While it provides students greater flexibility, distance education courses also require good time management skills, self-motivation and self-discipline.   For a quick indication if you’re prepared for distance education,  take this easy-to-use distance learning self-assessment (opens new web page), provided by Austin Community College.

Keep in mind: this assessment is not intended to dissuade you from enrolling in distance learning courses, but it may call attention to personal characteristics that you may need to work on.

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Distance Learning Instructional Media

Distance learning is almost exclusively associated with online courses, and those  courses now comprise approximately 99% of VCT’s course offerings.  Other media also are used for distance learning, however.

ONLINE: In an online course, traditional classroom instruction is replaced by instruction that takes place over the Internet, so access to a computer with an Internet connection is required. The instruction is typically asynchronous, which means that students and faculty do not need to log-in to the course at the same time. Faculty-student and student-student interactions take place in online formats. As in traditional classroom instruction, Internet courses incorporate textbooks and other hard copy materials. Tests often are administered in on-campus testing centers.

TELECOURSE: Telecourses are taught via videotape. In some areas, they are made available through local TV cable channels. For a modest fee, some colleges provide students a set of tapes that must be returned at the end of a semester. Some colleges stream telecourse video through the Internet, but a high-speed Internet connection is needed to access them this way. Check with the VCT Coordinator at the provider college for specifics on how you may access a telecourse.

INTERACTIVE VIDEO: Two-way video courses require students to attend class at specific times at a designated site, which is equipped to send and receive video. The classes are live, with the instructor at one location and students at one or more sites elsewhere. Live interaction takes place between students and the instructor and among students at various sites.

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Computer Skills and Requirements

It is the student's responsibility to ensure that they have reliable and consistent access to a computer that meets the minimum requirements to participate in an online course.

Note: Some courses may have additional software requirements. Please contact the course instructor for special requirements.  In addition, difficulties experienced by a Virtual College of Texas (VCT) student should be reported immediately to the student’s local college VCT Coordinator, or their local college’s technical support personnel.

System Requirements
Operating Systems:
Windows XP, Vista, Win7
Mac OS 10.5 or higher
Browsers (links open new web pages):
Windows: Mozilla Firefox 3.5 or higher (recommended) or Internet Explorer 8
Mac: Mozilla Firefox for Mac (recommended) or Safari 3.2 or higher
FREE Plug-ins and Helper Applications (links open new web pages)

Adobe Reader
Adobe Reader allows you to view, save, and print Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files.
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Adobe Flash Player
Adobe Flash Player allows you to view content created with Flash such as interactive web applications and animations.
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Adobe Shockwave Player
Adobe Shockwave Player allows you to view content created with Macromedia Director such as games and interactive 3D simulations.
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Sun Java
Sun Java Runtime Engine (JRE) allows you to use interactive tools on the web.
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QuickTime Player
QuickTime Player allows Mac and Windows users to play back audio and video files.
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RealPlayer allows you to view and listen to streaming video and audio.
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Windows Media Player
Windows Media Player allows you to view, listen and download streaming video and audio.
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MS PowerPoint Viewer
Microsoft Office PowerPoint Viewer 2007 lets you view full-featured presentations created in PowerPoint 97 and later versions.

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Tips for Success in Distance Learning> > > Tips from Students

  • Get appropriate counseling and advice from a counselor or academic advisor at your local college to develop a degree plan. This degree plan will outline the specific courses you need to take in order to accomplish your educational goals.
  • Make sure your computer meets the requirements for the distance education courses you are taking. General requirements are listed below as well as the on the Course Listing Form associated with each course in the VCT online schedule, just click on the course title.
  • Purchase the correct textbook(s). However you purchase your textbooks, make sure you have the correct ISBN number(s) for the book(s). Each book's ISBN number is included with the textbook information on the Course Listing Form associated with each course in the VCT online schedule, just click on the course title.
  • Read your course syllabus carefully and note all deadlines and due dates. Pay careful attention to any special instructions, guidelines, or requirements provided by your instructor.
  • Visit course web pages your instructor advises you to read. Then add them to your Favorites list (Internet Explorer) in case you need them later.
  • If you get behind or experience computer problems, be sure to contact your instructor by telephone or email sooner rather than later.

Strategies for Staying on Top of Your Work!

  • Keep up with the work; don't get behind. Distance learning courses require self-motivation and discipline. It's important to give them the same dedication and effort that you would devote to courses on campus.
  • Pay close attention to deadlines and due dates; they're not negotiable. Only courses specifically labeled "self-paced" should be treated as such; otherwise, your work will need to be turned in on the schedule your instructor specifies. If you have problems with an assignment or deadline, contact your instructor.
  • Do not procrastinate! Give yourself plenty of time to complete your assignments and prepare for tests.
  • If you are unable to meet a testing deadline, contact your instructor as soon as possible to determine what options are available to you.
  • Stay in close contact with your instructor. If you have difficulty reaching your VCT instructor, contact the VCT Coordinator at the college providing the course.

Let the 3 P's work for you: Participation, Persistence and Patience.

  • Participation plays an important role in distance learning courses. Your comments, questions, and answers all contribute to making the class feel more like a community. You can use email, chat, or bulletin board tools to pose questions to other students, or form virtual study groups.
  • Be persistent until you get the answers you need. Actively seek answers from your classmates and instructor. If you need clarification or an explanation from your instructor, ask for it. If technical problems come up, seek out online technical help immediately, or send a note to the instructor.
  • Be patient with yourself and others. Allow the extra time you may need to master course content and new technical skills. If you disagree with people, don't "flame" them by lashing out in words. The same rules of courtesy apply in an online classroom as in any other setting. Remember that others can't see your facial expression when you make a joke or sarcastic remark, so write your messages clearly to convey your meaning accurately.

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