Who are distance learners? While some are traditional students taking a single online course for some particular reason, e.g. to take a course their home institution does not offer, most are nontraditional students. Wyman (1988) notes that the definition of nontraditional varies among institutions, but they are generally older than twenty-three and most are pursuing a baccalaureate degree. Some are completing a degree that was interrupted, some are changing careers, and some are simply taking courses to enrich their lives. Harrell (2002) relates experiences at Mercer University Extended Education Centers, where the average student is thirty-three years old and female. Many of these students also work full time and have children. Regarding adult and nontraditional students generally, Harrell says they tend to be highly motivated and make better grades than younger students, although they may take longer to complete a degree program.
Distance learning students know what they want and are no longer bound by geography to whatever is available in their community; they can attend any institution that offers the best program for their unique educational goals. Distance learning, like online shopping, has enabled those in smaller towns or remote rural areas to access resources without the costs of time and transportation. Students with physical disabilities or without access to transportation also benefit from attending class via home computer.
O’Leary (2000) discussed the evolution of distance learning from the correspondence schools of the nineteenth century into the modern, web-based, multimedia distance learning of today. While distance learning was once seen as a second class substitute for “real” education, the internet has made it possible for distance learning to include timely interaction with faculty, discussion among students, quality graphics, audio, and video. Software such as Blackboard or Moodle enables instructors to design a variety of assignments and interactive assessments for distance learning classes. Graphic designers are often employed to help instructors design courses for the distance learner.
Access to books for distance learners is becoming easier as more reference books become available electronically. Full-text books are sometimes available on the internet as well. The proliferation of e-journals now available to libraries through full-text databases has been a tremendous boon to distance learners, traditional students and faculty alike. Anyone with internet access can now benefit from distance learning.
Harrell, K. (2002). Reducing High Anxiety: Responsive Library Services to Off-Campus Nontraditional Students. Journal of Library Administration, 37(3/4), 355. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
O’Leary, M. (2000). Distance Learning and Libraries. Online, 24(4), 94. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
Wyman, A. (1988). Working with Nontraditional Students in the Academic Library. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 14(1), 32. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.