The impact of Distance Education on the process of learning defines not only distinct roles for the instructor, the instruction and the technology involved but also the role of the distance learner who faces a change from the traditional learning environment to a new setting. The learner is face with new challenges of anticipation, distress and the need to balance the responsibilities of the forthcoming tasks with the conditionings of work, family or life circumstances (Thompson, 10). The distance learner is, however, characterized by self-reliance and a natural intent to pursue individual achievements on an environment different from the traditional one. The distance learner must be able to do the following: juggling a range of responsibilities on a daily basis, does not need constant reassurance and direction from faculty, likes working independently and can manages their time well, good readers or enjoys reading, enjoys working on their own, but also appreciate some interaction with faculty and peers, busy and/or frequently changing schedule.
However, some distance education learners do not do well because they need constant contact with the instructor in the traditional MWF or TTh pattern of classes. This usually includes students (despite age or previous education) with deficient reading, writing, computing, studying, test-taking, and critical thinking skills. Some students right out of high school are at high risk if they do not have the appropriate skills. They may need more experience with how to pursue a college class by taking a few classes on-campus.
The research clearly shows many different motivational factors that are contributing to the distance education learners. Many of the learners find this an effective method of teaching and learning. Listed below are some of the characteristics, which have been found for the distance education learner.
Age. Although the methods of noting student ages vary from study to study, researchers agree that distance education students are, on average, older than typical undergraduate students.
Gender. Most studies of distance learners in North American higher education report that more women than men are enrolled in courses delivered at a distance.
Ethnic Background. Most reports in the literature focusing on the participation of students from various ethnic groups are program descriptions, rather than comparative studies. For many of these students, courses and programs delivered at a distance is an accessible avenue for upward mobility. However, there is some evidence, largely qualitative and anecdotal, that distance education is a particularly appealing way for students from disadvantaged socio-economic groups to enter higher education (Thompson, 13).
Location. Traditionally, distance education has attracted students whose geographic distance from a higher education institution discouraged or prevented enrollment in on-campus classes. However, in many institutions the “typical” distance learner is no longer place-bound. Increasingly, students in close local proximity to traditional educational institutions are choosing distance study not because it is the only alternative, but rather because it is the preferred alternative.
Life Roles. In addition to filling the role of student, most distance learners also fill the roles of worker and spouse.
In summary, the distance education must be able to provide to the learner the area of course design, the need for evaluation of learners affective reactions, learning, transfer of knowledge to other settings, and impact on the organization was stressed (Simonson, 50). Learners need to be aware of the fact that various variables such as personality characteristics, learning styles or life factors, combined with their drive for professional development may be determining factors in attaining their educational goals.