Student Views of Distance Learning

Online or distance education has become an advantageous option for people whose personal and professional responsibilities make it difficult for them to attend classes in a traditional classroom setting. This article allows prospective students to learn how students have benefited from the flexible learning environment offered by online courses and how distance education may allow the working professional to pursue their education or further their professsional development. Students share insight on why they chose distance education and discuss their experiences with online classes while exploring the challenges they've faced and what they've learned from the experience.


The following is an excerpt from .
Head Start Bulletin

Why Students Choose Online

Getting started and pursuing a college education can seem like a daunting task, particularly if your job, location, time, and home responsibilities make attending a classroom challenging. However, when you take a step beyond the traditional classroom environment and consider online or distance education, the possibilities expand dramatically.

When several students who chose the online path to professional development shared their insights and experiences, they dispelled a few myths about distance learning. As you read their views, your ideas about trying distance learning may change, too.

We asked Gwen Ridley Robertson, a family child care provider, why she chose online [education] and her answer was simple, "I'm in my home all day and work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and online is so convenient. If I tried to get to class, by the time I drove and found a place to park, I would always be late."

Other students had different reasons for choosing distance learning. As a military spouse, Donna Britt travels with her husband and was not able to complete a degree at any one location. Jean Wright and Kathy Rogers both work fulltime and have families, one with high school age children and one with small children. Jean also lives in a rural location.

The Student Experience

These four women pursued degrees ranging from an A.A. in Early Childhood Education to a doctorate in Education. Expectations about what the courses would be like varied.

Gwen, who took courses at the University of Cincinnati and received her A.A., is now starting a B.A. degree. She did not expect the level of involvement she found. "I expected only e-mail communication, but the teachers helped me network beyond my own course with others and instructors were available to talk by phone. If I left a message on the discussion boards, I had a response in two days."

Donna Britt, who received her Ed.D in Management of Programs in Child and Youth Services from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL ( said what she discovered exceeded her expectations. "I realized that I can develop strong relationships with my fellow students without seeing them," she said. "Online courses opened up a whole new world of learning."

Jean Wright, who is pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education at the University of Cincinnati, expected to be self-directed and to stay on schedule. She was pleasantly surprised that her expectations were easy to meet. Kathy Rogers, who also is earning her degree in Early Childhood Education, said the video lectures that were part of her class enhanced the readings. "While watching the videos, I felt like I was a live participant in the class," she said, "because the readings and assignments fit together perfectly on the video."

Learning new computer skills was part of each student's experience. Kathy learned how to send assignments and attach pictures. Jean had to become familiar with word processing software and spreadsheets and how to download and upload assignments to the Web site. "I learned to adapt to the way each professor distributed materials and returned papers just like a student in a face-to-face class does," she said. In addition to learning new computer skills, Donna also became a more focused writer. "I had to be precise when I wrote, she said "because there are no visual clues or opportunities to clarify ideas through speech."

Time management became a family activity in Gwen's house. "Sometimes I did my homework with my children after supper," she said. This practice validated what he told them about their need to develop good study habits. "I have to study and so do you is the message," she continued, "and my children saw the pay-off when I received my degree."

Challenges Faced By Students

There were two primary challenges faced by these students:

  • Time management—Kathy remarked, "It is important to stick to your plan and not good to fall behind. The professors give you a realistic timeline and the class Web sites have all the assignments and discussion topics listed."
  • Participating in the student teaching process online differed from traditional classrooms—Jean said: "My mentor, who also worked in my agency, videotaped me in the classroom doing a specific activity. I sent the videotape to my professor who posted it on the Web site. Then I watched it with my mentor and professor and they offered feedback."


Students reflected about their distance learning experience. They realized that they have learned that:

  • They have the ability to succeed in an online environment.
  • Some people are independent learners—"In a traditional classroom, I probably would have been quiet and participated less in the discussion. But online there is no pressure to be called on, or worry that you will not be heard. I can participate in a different way—there is no time limit and I have access to the discussion all the time." (Gwen)
  • They have gained confidence in the teaching methods they practice with young children and in the developmental purpose of those methods—I gained confidence in the way I'd been doing things. I always re-read stories to my own children and to my students, but I didn't know why. Now I know there is a developmental purpose behind the repetition. I understand that this is good practice and can articulate the principles behind it." (Jean)

Advice for Potential Students All the students agreed that distance learning was an enriching experience. They recommended:

  • Trying an online course to see if you like it. Take a moment and review the self-assessment for online learning. This is one tool to help you decide if you want to try a course or earn a degree online.
  • Asking for help with technology. The staff at school and people in technical support will be available to offer help with the online system.
  • Being disciplined and carrying out assignments.
  • Budgeting your time and asking your family to respect your time.

There are an ever-growing number of students nationwide who are taking online courses and reporting that the experience has enabled them to learn and also taught them something even more valuable—a better understanding about their own ability to succeed in the changing educational arena of higher education.

"Student Views of Distance Learning." Professional Development. Head Start Bulletin #79. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2007. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2012

Last Updated: March 23, 2016