Distance-Learning Classes for a Computer Course

Sometimes, due to conflicts with work, or a students’ inability to find the courses they want within a reasonable distance from where they live, or simply due to the students’ preference, attending classes in a classroom is not an option. In the past, this might mean that a person would be unable to continue his education, but in recent years more and more accredited schools are offering courses online. Online courses have their own advantages and disadvantages, but can be very useful to people who cannot, or do not want to, attend a classroom on a regular basis.

Online courses require a different sort of dedication from a student.

They tend to be more flexible, which sometimes can lead a student to neglect or overlook requirements or deadlines. Online courses generally require more reading than courses attended in person. It is also hard for some students to learn without the advantage of being able to ask an instructor questions as the information is being provided to them, and sometimes questions posed by other students can be useful in clarifying the subject matter.

A good distance-learning course seeks to remedy these problems in a number of ways.

In addition to pre-written and pre-recorded lesson plans that a student can access through the Internet, online courses sometimes feature online message boards where students can discuss the subject matter and any problems or questions they have with it. The instructor sometimes participates in these as well, and should always be available to students via email, if a significant problem arises. Sometimes online chat groups can be assembled to meet over the Internet at an agreed-upon time, if it works out for a large enough number of students. They can then discuss the material in depth in real-time.

This style of learning is not effective for everyone but can be very helpful for students wishing to take accredited computer courses on a schedule that works for them. While at one time, online learning was seen as an inadequate or simplified form of learning, today it is as acceptable as traditional classes and provides opportunities for students who wouldn’t have access to this education otherwise. It is now possible to attend school and graduate with a degree without ever stepping into a classroom.

Computer Equipment

Distance-Learning Classes for a Computer Course

Two factors influence what kind of computer hardware a student will need to participate in distance education : the hardware that is needed to run the course, and the hardware that is needed to perform the computer tasks that will be taught in the course.

The course description should provide detailed specifications on the hardware that is needed to deliver the course, but there are some basic requirements for all distance learning courses. The student will need a computer with a CD and/or DVD drive, mouse, keyboard, and monitor. The student will probably also need speakers or headphones, with headphones being the best option if the student is taking the course in a public location like a library or computer lab. The course description will probably also specify some technical requirements such as minimum processor speed, memory, and screen resolution. Many courses will only run properly on Mac or a PC.

The course description should also specify the same type of information about the hardware that the student will need in order to perform the hands-on practice tasks for the course.

In the best situation, a student will be able to use the same system both to run the course and to practice the tasks by switching back and forth between the course and the exercises. In other cases, the student will need two separate systems -- one for the course materials and another for the hands-on exercises. In lower level courses, the developers of the course may take care of this problem by embedding simulations of the exercises into the course materials.

Examples of situations where a student will not be able to use a single system include lessons on formatting, defragmenting, or partitioning a hard drive; installing software on a Mac when taking the course on a PC; updating an operating system; and adding memory to a computer.

Internet

Before the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW), computer-based distance learning courses were either installed on the hard drive of the computer where the course would be taken, or run directly from a removable source such as a video disc or CD. Some courses are still configured to run on independent computers, those not connected to the internet. These courses are mostly commercial computer courses that are sold by stores that carry computer software or consumer electronics, and come on CDs or DVDs.

Distance learning computer courses from educational institutions are usually delivered over the Internet (and called online courses), or from the school's internal network.

Either way, the student will need to be connected to a server to take the course. One of the main advantages of a course that is taken over the Internet is that it can be taken from any location with an internet connection and on any computer that meets the hardware and software requirements of the course. Students who are taking computer courses to help them advance at work may be allowed to use the workplace computers and Internet connection to take online courses. If students have Internet access at home, then they can sign on to a course at any time of day.

There are also some disadvantages to taking online courses. Some courses use high quality graphics, high definition video, and stereo audio. A lot of Internet capacity (or bandwidth) is necessary for these courses to run smoothly from the Internet. Students taking distance learning courses are at the mercy of their Internet connection. If it is slow, or unreliable, it will be difficult for a student to concentrate on learning. Generally, unless a student has access to a broadband (fast) Internet connection, online learning is not practical.

Software

As with the computer equipment needed for a distance learning course, there are two factors that influence the software requirements for distance learning: software needed to run the course, and software needed to perform the tasks that are taught in the course.

The description of the course should include what specific software will be required for delivering the course material, but there are two general situations. Some courses run on proprietary software that must be installed on the computer where the course will be taken. Other courses run on common software packages like Internet browsers that are probably already installed on the computer. There are also courses that will only work on one operating system, usually Microsoft Windows, and even on only one version of the operating system.

The less flexibility there is on the software required for delivering a course, the more chance there is that the tasks being taught will have to be performed on a separate system.

Examples of situations where two systems might be needed because of software requirements include: configuring a peripheral such as a printer to run on a specific version of an operating system when the course will only run on another version; editing video on a software package that will not run properly when the software required for the course is also running; and upgrading a web browser while the course is running in that browser.

Time Required

It is hard to predict how much time it will take for a student to successfully complete an online computer course. Most online courses give students a lot of latitude in deciding how much time they will spend on the course. Lower level courses and those that are not part of a degree program may leave it entirely up to the student, specifying only a far off date by which the student must complete the course.

Higher level online courses, especially those offered by major educational institutions, will usually be more structured. Students will still have a lot of flexibility on when they study the course materials, but they may have deadlines for completing lessons, windows of time for taking tests, and scheduled dates for interacting with instructors and classmates throughout a course. Students may even be assigned projects to work on with teams of classmates that may be located thousands of miles apart. Students who can work these more structured courses into their schedules will learn and retain more information and be able to apply their learning to real-life situations better than students left completely to themselves.

Instructors assigned to online courses can help students figure out the best way for them to approach online courses and estimate the time commitment that will be needed in order to make the best use of an online computer course.


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