Distance Learning and Student Support

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Online classes have helped to revolutionize the higher education platform, but they've also left a gap in a particular learning necessity –– tutoring.



Make a tutor aware if you also need assistance with learning how to navigate your online learning platform.

The rise of distance learning classes and MOOCs has done more than prove that digital education is here to stay. In fact, according to a recent Pew Internet report, among the leaders of for-profit colleges and universities, 71 percent report that their institutions offer classes online and more than half (54 percent) say these classes offer the same value as classes taken in person.

While that may be the belief of several institutions, experts say the surge in online courses has also led to an increased need for tutoring programs.

"Because online learning is still relatively new and not universally and enthusiastically accepted, students and instructors face many hurdles when trying to squeeze the best possible education out of this system," said Karen Southall Watts, an educational expert and business consultant.

Donna Lubrano, Professor of Marketing and Communications at Newbury College, agreed with Watts, adding that, while online learning is certainly an option of convenience, it is not always the best choice for students.

"I have tutored and taught both online and in the classroom, and have noticed that many students who are enrolling in online classes have been out of the classroom for many years," Lubrano said. "(They) see the online option as a way to manage their work lives and desire to advance their career."

Lubrano said these factors mean students can face a number of challenges, including the inability to navigate an online learning environment and course management software, like Blackboard.

Watts said her educational experience both in and outside of the traditional classroom has allowed her to witness a number of situations that affect the student enrolled in distance learning, including:

  • Students taking online math courses sometimes fall behind in the first

few weeks because they must first learn the intricacies of the software before delving into course content — catching up can be difficult.

  • Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds may have had

little or even no previous access to the Internet and are unfamiliar with things like chats, discussion threads and login procedures.

  • Students who have used technology only for leisure do not understand how to do research or create substantive replies in an online classroom.
  • Students who are older or returning to school after working in a non-technical field may have apprehensions and fears regarding computers. Many simply cannot type — a huge disadvantage in some courses.

"Online teaching is a double-edged sword and many students and instructors will confess they feel that, despite its convenience, it sometimes feels like a 'second best' choice," Watts said. "At the community college level students often tell me that they only take online courses as a 'last resort'."

The upside, Watts said, is that the benefits of distance learning programs seem to be far "outweighing the concerns" associated with online classes.

Lubrano said it is important for professors who teach online courses to provide students with a regularly-checked email address and a window of office hours intended for meeting with students to address needs.

It's not fair to assume "that students or faculty come into the online learning process with the needed computer skills," she said, emphasizing that, while there is definitely a need for implemented tutoring, online learning is "the way of the future."

Quick Tips

  • Seek tutoring services at your school upon enrolling and ask if they offer specialized help to online students.
  • Ask distance learning professors if they offer office hours and a contact email address.
  • Make a tutor aware if you also need assistance with learning how to navigate your online learning platform.

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