There is no doubt that there are many challenges caused by distance learning. Before COVID-19, you couldn’t have foreseen them, and you might have found it a struggle to transition away from the classroom. You might be currently encountering many barriers that make it difficult for you to learn. This is all perfectly normal.

In this article, however, we will explore some of the unique educational benefits afforded to us by distance learning. There are the obvious benefits, such as saving both time and money since there is no need to commute. Additionally, there are deeper and more interesting benefits for your education that center around three key areas: differentiation, self-discipline, and career enhancement.

Differentiation is a hot topic in education right now. It essentially means that we teach in diverse ways so that each student can learn however they learn best. It means providing variety in what we teach, how we teach it, and how we test it. There are some valuable opportunities for differentiation in distance learning. For example, teachers can easily provide links to multimedia sources (such as videos, blogs, and websites) and encourage students to collaborate by using online platforms in unique ways (for example, content sharing platforms, and small breakout groups). Teachers can also use innovative online techniques to keep students engaged with the material by including fun quizzes and student-generated online content. Beyond teachers, students have control over their own differentiated learning as well. With distance learning, you can review material as much as you want. You can spend more time reading things that interest you, and you can pause a course to look up anything that excites or intrigues you. You can direct both your own pace of learning as well as the material you engage with to enhance your learning. In this way, learning can be more fun, and you also have the flexibility to learn when you are ready, motivated and engaged.  You can learn whenever and however you learn best, but to do this effectively, you must develop self-discipline.

Self-discipline is a skill that many students are forced to develop through distance learning. In order to succeed, you have to make your own schedule. You need to decide on a time when you will study and a specific place where you can learn. You also have to reduce distractions, manage your own internal deadlines, and work harder to reach out to peers and your lecturer for support when you need it. Each of these are learned skills that will benefit you in your future education, even after you return to the classroom. These skills can also help for the rest of your career.

Career enhancement is a key benefit of distance learning. Successful people have the ability to pivot and adjust to major changes with ease, and employers are always looking for employees who can be flexible in the workplace. You have switched from in-person to distance learning, and you have had to suddenly self-direct your learning to be successful. These are all important life experiences and skills that you can share with future employers. Distance learning also helps us become more tech savvy, to embrace and develop online skills quickly, and to become comfortable with online communication, all of which are useful for your future career. You now know how to connect with people from all over the globe and collaborate on important projects regardless of location. Most importantly, distance learning has taught us about work-life balance. You have had to juggle your education with many competing needs such as family time or childcare pressures.  We have all experienced increased anxiety surrounding those we love. For many of you, this may not be new, but learning how to manage your own education in times of high stress while caring for loved ones is one important way that distance learning can help each of us grow during times of crisis.  

While there is no doubt that distance learning can be difficult, there are also a lot of opportunities and benefits that it can bring to your education and ultimately your growth, self-development, and success.Dr Dawn England is a Senior Lecturer and Campus Programme Coordinator for Education at MDX Dubai.