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About Distance Learning

What Is Distance Learning?

Today, distance education primarily takes place on the Internet with a combination of text, graphics, audio, and video. Students may find it advantageous to enroll in a school that offers the added flexibility of multiple approaches. In fact, as you're researching programs, make sure to check the many ways that institutions offer classes. Programs that the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP) will have to offer will require commitment and discipline to complete the course in the prescribed timeframe.

Some distance learning students might want to take a traditional face-to-face course as part of their curriculum, either in the evening or during a weekend offering.

Next Steps

Whether you're looking for a certificate of attendance, certification course, associate, or bachelor degree program, VDFP has information to assist you with your career path.

Electronic Learning and Synchronous/Asynchronous Instruction

The root of asynchronous distance learning (ADL) is asynchronous communication. In its simplest form, asynchronous communication occurs when someone sends you an electronic message to which you respond at a later time. Students who are enrolled in an ADL class have their own passwords to reach the course site on the Internet. In this case VDFP utilizes Articulate Learning to assist the student in the learning process.

The value of Asynchronous Learning is that the student is able to work at their own pace and complete the program when the time best suits them. Once the student is enrolled in the program he/she can complete a module and return to the site as time allows. At the end of each module is a competency based testing procedure to test the student on skills they obtained through their online experience.

Additional Advantages of Online Learning

Students initially baffled by the differences between face-to-face and electronic courses quickly adapt, much as earlier generations adapted to the abstract feeling of telephone communication between parties at great distances.

Technical problems are minimal, and since technology is portable, students can "attend" class by logging on at work, at home, or from the field.

Student writing and research skills improve. Responses are carefully written and not just spontaneous "off the top of the head" utterances. Source material is more closely read and skillfully woven into comments.

Students participate more. Psychological, physical, and social barriers can be mitigated.

There is a permanent written record of all student and faculty contributions that can be studied and reviewed at any time by all participants. VDFP Staff can monitor the frequency of student log-ins because the software program in use indicates to what extent students have read. The instructor can then follow up with students who do not appear to be participating.

More To Consider for Potential Online Students

For some students, the physical separation from the other students and the instructor can be a serious problem, giving rise to the common phrase "the loneliness of the long-distance learner." However, most students find that prolific email exchanges with staff tend to ease the lonesomeness and a more one-one learning environment occurs.

More significantly, distance learners must find ways to pace themselves and make sure they do not fall behind in their course work. Students who have gotten into the habit of doing readings and assignments the night before class will be at a disadvantage. Online education requires self-discipline and superior time management skills. Juggling multiple responsibilities is important for all part-time students, but it is even more so for those studying from a distance.

The heavy emphasis online reading, as opposed to talking, can be a problem for students who are weak in this area. Although all students will discover they are better researchers by the end of each course, initially learning the program features may be a slight burden but the online help and easy to follow menu options will have the student up and running in no time.

Online education also demands a high level of computer interaction, meaning students will be expected to view each module and read the information in the text prior to completing the online competency test. For students who have gotten into the habit of passively listening to others, the need to be an "active learner" can come as a shock. But the rewards are considerable, and most students and staff say they learn more within the enriched environment of online courses.

Going the Distance—Is it for You?

The number of online distance learning opportunities continues to grow. Students can now choose from an unprecedented range of new courses, certificates, and degrees. It's no exaggeration that anyone who uses email and has access to the Web can consider taking a college course electronically. Review these factors before making this important decision.

Your Learning Style

Learning from a distance requires discipline and commitment. Although the electronic classroom is a dynamic tool capable of engendering powerful feelings of identity and belonging, the experience is still a far cry from meeting in a classroom with fellow students. You must regularly set aside the time to do the work, which may require at least one to three hours per week on personal course reading time in addition to one to three hours of log-on time. Are you the kind of person who adheres to schedules? Do you need to be physically in the same place as other students and faculty? Will you do the work without anyone there to push and motivate you?

Some students have difficulty adjusting to the anonymity of the virtual classroom and find the physical presence of other students, and especially faculty, essential. On the other hand, if you like to take time and read over the information you are trying to absorb from lecture, online learning may be ideal for you. (As a quick test, are you someone who can exercise at home with a workout video, or do you need to go to the gym and have a class and instructor to motivate you?)

Your Comfort with Technology

You don't have to be a computer whiz to excel in distance learning, but you do have to feel comfortable with technology and have access to the appropriate equipment. And even with the best equipment, things will still go wrong. When this happens, you need to get help. Are you patient and methodical enough to contact the appropriate resources? This could include VDFP staff, your Internet provider, and even the company that manufactured your computer. You might have to end up doing some troubleshooting yourself. Even though help is usually just a phone call away, it never hurts to be self-reliant and a little more panic-proof than the average person. If you are still unsure of your computer skills, don't worry; by the end of a single course of online study you will have improved skills as well as the self-confidence that comes from meeting new challenges head-on.

The Support Level of Your Environment

Adult students with family and/or work responsibilities need to juggle their workloads effectively in order to make time for studying. A supportive family environment is essential. Adult students experience enough self-doubt; what they need from those around them are comfort and sometimes a little push in the right direction. Be sure to share your educational goals with the people you're closest to; you will need them throughout the process. You will find early on in the program offerings that an online didactic learning experience give the learning the opportunity to stay close to home while completing pre-requisite courses to meet the requirement of future certification programs.

Your Time Frame

Remember the old phrase, "Slow and steady wins the race"? It's definitely true when it comes to education. You might feel that you've already delayed your decision too long and are eager to make up for lost time. But, hold on. Experience shows that even a single course is a heavy load for adult students who have been away from studying for any length of time, Students who unrealistically overload themselves do not do as well as they could have with a lighter schedule. On the other hand, if you are on leave from work and have the rest of your life well in hand, you may be able to push the envelope and complete an online course through VDFP with no significant problems.

Returning to the educational arena as an adult is fun. It is a chance to bring your maturity and hard-earned practical experience into a rigorous intellectual environment. An academic credential will also unlock doors for you as you continue to pursue a career. The Internet provides opportunities and choices unheard-of as recently as a decade ago. It makes sense to investigate distance learning as a possible learning option. This year, approximately 60,000 electronic college courses will be scheduled in the United States alone. With a little searching, there's an excellent chance you'll find a program that's ideal for you. Now that VDFP has close to 40 programs with ACE accreditation many of the current college programs will allow a standard maximum level of credits you can transfer into their program. It only makes sense to complete the majority of the programs in an Asynchronous Learning environment and then pick up the general education course through an institution of higher learning that sees the value of the commitment an adult student has to offer.

For Additional information on Online courses or Colleges offering degrees in Fire Service related fields, visit the Community College Page on our Website.

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Last Updated: Monday, July 8, 2013