There are countless benefits of distance learning for all types of students.
One question often asked is what are the benefits of distance learning in rural schools and is it an effective way to educate students?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), almost one hundred percent of schools in the United States have internet access. This is a remarkable change from even ten years ago, when only thirty-five percent were connected. Even the “digital divide,” the gap between access for urban and rural schools, is fast closing.
In fact, it is the internet that is helping to give students in small rural schools many benefits of distance learning – access to courses that they would not have exposure to otherwise. About one-third of America’s school children live in areas classified as “rural,” and more than half of rural schools have fewer than four hundred students. In schools of this size, it is hard to offer the range of classes that larger schools can. Smaller schools often face the problem of attracting teachers – partly due to lower pay – especially in the areas of science and math, so advanced course offerings tend to be less extensive. To combat this problem and provide students with further learning opportunities, many rural schools turn to distance learning.
What are the many benefits of distance learning?
Learning via the internet allows schools to expand curriculum options to include advanced classes. A benefit for schools is that students can enroll in online classes in subjects like calculus, chemistry, physics, and anatomy, which are usually low-enrollment and high cost in traditional settings. Schools save money because they do not have to hire new teachers, and can cut costs even further by participating in distance learning consortiums and sharing teachers, personnel, and technology costs with other schools.
Even with countless benefits of distance learning, the question is does it work? Is it as effective as classroom instruction?
A study done by the Department of Emergency Medicine at Scott & White Clinic and Memorial Hospital in Texas looked at the efficacy of distance learning in training rural EMTs through classroom instruction or online learning. The study found no difference between mean test scores or in attrition rates between these groups. Studies have also shown online instruction to be as effective as classroom instruction among college students. But does distance learning work for high school and even middle school students?
Several studies show no difference in test scores or achievement levels between traditional and online learning. A meta-analysis of studies on this subject was funded by the Department of Education in 2004. The results indicate there are benefits of distance learning and it is as effective as classroom learning, but “some applications of distance education appeared to be much better than classroom instruction and others were much worse.” Studies have shown that some students need additional support from a teacher to be successful with distance learning. Teachers can’t be replaced, but rural schools are finding alternative ways to provide students access to those teachers.
One clear benefit of distance learning allows small schools to remain open, which is important because study after study has shown that small schools have higher graduation rates and lower drop-out rates. The benefits of a small school can grow exponentially when administrators and teachers make the commitment to provide opportunities for distance learning.