Open and distance learning is a method of learning that focuses on liberating learners from the constraints of time and space while providing flexible learning opportunities. For many married and working adults, open and distance learning (ODL) is a way to combine work and family responsibilities with educational opportunities.
The first challenge online distance learners face is balancing work and education. Most of the open and distance education students are seniors with jobs and families. Career responsibility is already scary, not to mention family and education. The task of balancing all of the above responsibilities is a real challenge for most of them.
The second issue is the acquisition of online distance study habits. The daily environment of students is a distraction for most students. Unlike traditional college students who are always in their learning community which supports them for the most part, online distance students are not. Distractions such as asking friends for dinner night and asking wife to shop at the mall every weekend are among the other distractions that students face. Having some time in the day to study is a very difficult task.
Online distance learners also have a hard time being independent and responsible towards themselves. Most of the time, there is no one to monitor the learning process of the students. The openness of the online distance program gives students the freedom to do their own learning process whenever they want but most of the time, procrastination is the culprit. Also, an unfocused view of their own learning goals will cause students to act irresponsibly towards their own learning.
Online distance learners also have problems recognizing and mastering strengths and skills. In online distance learning, technology is the main channel through which information and communication flow. An internet connected computer is usually required for this process and its application will need the user to master a certain level of acquisition. Students will also need some basic writing skills and proficiency in English remotely online. Unfortunately, not all students possess the above skills.
The fifth challenge is to motivate themselves as well as maintain and increase their self-confidence. In online distance education, learners are usually isolated from their peers and teachers. Motivational factors are absent due to lack of contact and competition with other students. The lack of immediate support from a teacher who is able to motivate will also affect the learners. In the long run, students may feel uncomfortable with their teacher and uncomfortable with their educational situation and environment.
Online distance learners also have some trouble communicating and interacting with their peers. Most of the time, learners will learn most effectively when they have the opportunity to interact with other students. Unfortunately, forming a study group is not easy. This is caused by the difference in time usage among the students. A particular student may have some time to meet with his peers at 10 am every Saturday, but another student working in the government sector may still be at work on time.
The next step is to deal with distance learning strategies regardless of the package of printed materials that students are familiar with. There may be audio/video tape materials, TV-assisted learning, overhead projectors, computer references, and computer-assisted instruction using the Internet. Some students may feel uncomfortable with these learning strategies due to the lack of skills and knowledge in using these strategies.
The second last challenge is preparing for and taking exams. In order to excel in the exam, learners must start early in understanding the course content and preparing and revising the content. However, not all students start early in their learning process. Not having enough time, being lazy, too much work to do are among the other reasons given by this type of student in order to avoid studying for exams.
A final challenge online distance learners face is the use of library facilities to access information and references. Most of the library is only open during working hours and learners will not be able to go to the library during working hours due to the heavy work in the office. This will certainly create problems for students who want to access reference materials. Library database software such as the OPAC will also require students to have appropriate training and skills in order to maximize use.
Open and distance education courses are very different from traditional classrooms. Due to a number of challenges and obstacles, this often requires a high degree of commitment on the part of the learner.
To overcome the challenges of online distance, learners must first plan and manage themselves effectively in order to balance work, family, and study. They should apply smart time management. Avoiding procrastination is a must. They should be more responsible and have a focused view towards learning. They must also learn to improve themselves in areas where they are lacking (such as writing skills, note-taking skills, computer skills, and English language skills) because not all skills will be taught by the teacher. They need to motivate themselves by setting achievable goals and have a positive attitude. Because of the limited meeting time with their peers, they have to make an effort to interact with their peers and teachers more frequently.