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Going the distance

During a recent trip to Toronto, I was riding on the subway when, to my surprise, I saw an advertisement for Memorial. The advertisement was part of the university’s Memorial@Home campaign, a national award-winning initiative designed to promote awareness about Memorial’s distance education programs.

In addition to the aforementioned subway ads, local radio has been flooded with “complete your degree from wherever” advertisements. By all accounts, this marketing campaign has been very successful.

This past winter Memorial’s Distance Education and Learning Technologies (DELT) division boasted a 7.8 per cent increase in enrolment in 2006–2007 and accounts for an amazing 12.8 per cent of the total enrolment at MUN.

Since its incorporation over 40 years ago, DELT has grown to become a national leader in distance education and currently offers over 350 courses, from a variety of different faculties and schools, from Nursing to Arts. There are even entire degree and diploma programs that can be completed by distance, both at an undergraduate and graduate level. Although Newfoundlanders account for the vast majority of distance students, DELT’s Memorial@Home enrolment consists of many national and international students as well.

If you do not live near the university, work full-time or have other commitments that prevent you from attending classes, distance education is wonderful. Distance education provides a great way for people to complete their degrees or to upgrade their education while juggling careers and family. It is therefore not surprising that well over half of distance students are over the age of 25. The flexibility provided by distance courses is also advantageous to Memorial students experiencing class schedule conflicts.

While some people may be intimidated by the idea of doing a course via the Internet because they are not comfortable using the technology, I can attest that it is not as frightening as it seems. I have taken two distance courses and I am not the most technically-inclined person, but I have found the technology applications used by Memorial@Home very easy to use. If you do have trouble, there are tutorials, a support desk and even instant messaging to help you out.

However, distance education is not for everyone. To do a distance course requires a certain amount of self-discipline and devotion. It is easy to fall behind on your course work because you do not attend actual classes. You do not get the added benefit of sitting in class, listening to lectures and absorbing the material.

Furthermore, distance courses are not necessarily the “cheaper” route to university either. While you could save money by not commuting into university to attend class, there is a $51 administrative fee for Newfoundland students and $102 fee for students outside of the province tacked onto each course. Therefore, a student taking five courses via distance education will end up paying $255 more in tuition fees than their counterpart doing five courses on campus.

My own personal experience with distance courses has been somewhat mixed. While I did enjoy the freedom of being able to work at my own pace and of being able to complete my work anywhere I wanted to, I sometimes found it difficult to prepare for examinations because I did not know what information the professor wanted emphasized. I have also found that I, paradoxically, actually end up doing more work in my distance courses than in my regular classes. Weekly activities, such as quizzes and participating in discussion boards can be tedious and time-consuming.

Despite these factors, the advantages of distance education far outweigh the negatives. Memorial@Home is user-friendly and accessible to anyone with a computer. Most importantly, it opens doors for people who might not otherwise be able to attend university. As technology plays an ever-increasing role in our lives, both distance education’s enrolment and its importance to university education are surely only going to continue to increase.