What is Distance Learning? | Mercy College

What is Distance Learning?

Have you ever asked yourself, “Is it really possible to learn online?”, “Would I make a good distance education student?”, or “What is distance education?”

The idea of taking distance education courses can be an intimidating thought for anyone interested in either continuing their academic career or just starting one, but it does not have to be. Distance Education classes are often very different than traditional face-to-face classes because of how the material is presented, the communication between peers and instructors, and the overall learning experience. Here at Mercy College we do not want to see anyone, especially future students, enroll into a program or course that may not be right for them. So before you decide whether distance learning is right for you please take a moment to ask yourself - Is distance learning right for me?

What is Distance Education?

Distance Education refers to any learning experience that allows knowledge and content to be conveyed, using a variety of technologies, beyond physical space and time. In the past, distance education meant that you were completing your coursework either through mail correspondence (commonly referred to as “snail mail”) or over the phone. Today, students have the opportunity to complete coursework completely online through the use of a Learning Management System or LMS. The LMS used at Mercy College is Desire2Learn or D2L. Experiences in D2L may include live chat with faculty and fellow students, video lectures which can be viewed on your own time, interactive learning objects and threaded discussion, to name a few. Individuals who thought it impossible to further their education because they couldn’t attend a face-to-face course now have the ability to take courses that fit into their schedule.

What is the difference between Online and Hybrid?

An online course contains lectures that are delivered entirely online. Online courses may require that a student (on their own time) visits an art museum, completes an internship, volunteers Service Learning hours, or has an exam proctored at an educational facility.
A hybrid course drastically reduces the amount of time students are required to attend campus in person. Each hybrid class has a different amount of time required on campus, so be sure to investigate time requirements before enrolling in a specific hybrid course.

Will I have to sit in front of a computer during designated times each week?

This is a very common question that is asked by a number of people who are used to the typical face-to-face practice where you come in, sit down, and leave about an hour later. Course materials and communication occur in an online environment asynchronously which means the information can be accessed when it is most convenient for the user. There may be opportunities for live chat at a designated time within a specific course, however, your instructor will notify you well in advance.

How much time do I need to commit each week to an online course?

One of the major expectations of an online student is effective time management. Online courses often require at least as much, if not more time and commitment than traditional courses. In a typical face-to-face course a student taking a typical three credit hour course is expected to dedicate about six to ten hours a week, which includes in-class time. Online courses typically involve the same level of commitment usually around 6 hours per week but it is not considered rare to come across an online student who spends upwards of 10 hours a week in their online course. The real question that you want to ask yourself is how serious am I about my education and my future? Hopefully your answer is “very serious”, in which case the amount of time you will end of spending a week will mean nothing compared to the educational experience that you intend to receive.

How do I communicate with fellow classmates and the instructor?

Unlike a face-to-face course where you have to raise your hand and hope that your question is answered, online courses offer a number of ways to communicate with classmates both individually and as a group using tools built directly into D2L. Many of these tools are asynchronous in nature and allow students to communicate whenever is most convenient for them. However, synchronous activities occur as well when faculty and students are all online together. Consider email, which is probably one of the most used asynchronous tools available. When you send an email you often have to wait to receive a reply because the individual on the receiving end decides to reply to the email when it is most convenient for them. Some tools are synchronous which allow users to communicate as if they are talking on the phone or using Instant Messenger. Always keep in mind that your classmates and instructor are not able to view the same visual cues or body language that you would use in a face-to-face course. If you are experiencing any difficulties whether technical or related to the subject matter, let the instructor know.

Do I need to be a proficient computer user?

Students are expected to have some basic technology skills, such as word processing and an understanding of the Web. The technology that you are definitely going to be expected to have is a high speed internet connection which will allow you to take part in all the learning experiences provided in the courses offered at Mercy College. If you are beginning to question whether your current computer meets the necessary requirements please direct your attention to the technical requirements.

Does any orientation to online courses exist to help me better understand how online courses are conducted?

Mercy College offers two opportunities for students to get oriented to Distance Education. The first is a DE test drive which allows students to experience a real course in D2L, before deciding if Distance Education is right for them. Second, once a student is accepted and enrolls in online courses, they are also enrolled in a student’s tutorial course that offers a greater spectrum of information to prepare them for success here at Mercy College.