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The myths about distance learning

April 02, 2007

Hello again,

Distance learning sounds like the ideal opportunity for teachers unable to access traditional courses to pursue further training and professional development. Yet it seems ...

... from reading forum queries that many people seem wary of this form of training.

So does a qualification obtained by distance learning have some kind of drawback in comparison with a conventionally obtained one? The answer is simply, no. The status of a qualification depends solely on the reputation of the awarding body. Thus it is possible to obtain a Cambridge DELTA by distance learning and this has exactly the same status as one obtained by conventional methods; teaching is observed and assessed by local tutors. Masters degrees are available in distance format from such august bodies as the University of London, University of Liverpool and others as well as many US universities. In the UK, the Open University was a pioneer of distance learning to make higher education accessible to people unable to attend a course in the traditional manner. It is a highly respected organisation and its degrees and certificates are well regarded.

So why are so many prospective learners suspicious of distance courses? I think the fear stems from the proliferation of courses sparked by the technological possibilities opened up by the Internet. The old-style correspondence course was in fact viewed as a great challenge. People lacking the ease of face-to-face communication with teachers needed really strong motivation and sticking power to complete a course of study in this way. Yet many did achieve external degrees from reputable universities and were usually admired for their tenacity and determination.

The Internet has seen many organisations trying to take advantage of the vast audience and ease of delivery of training and it may be true that many courses are available that are probably not worth the paper the certificate is written on. Yet many courses do not claim to do more than provide an introduction to a topic. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about offering people acccess to training at beginner level. Such courses can spark an interest to take studies further. The key is to read the information about the course carefully and to check that no false claims are being made. However, even the existence of dud courses does not invalidate the genuine ones. For people unable to get to conventional courses, distance learning provides a wonderful opportunity to enhance professional development.

To avoid any pitfalls, select a course that is externally validated or that offers a well-recognised qualification from a reputable source. Bear in mind that distance learning requires a lot of self-discipline and perseverance but if you are sufficiently motivated and are careful to select a well-respected qualification, you have nothing to lose.

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  1. Lee Says:


    I would like to add that anyone seriously considering a distance-education diploma/certificate/degree of any kind should really do their investigative homework by researching the program's stated accreditation agencies. I say this because they are not all equal, especially many of those originating from the United States (subject for another post, entirely!).

    In short, distance-education shoppers, please find out beforehand if the company that is willing to take your money is also willing to let you contact recent graduates from their course. Find out: Are they (the graduates) happy with their product? Are they now employed? Are they working as a direct result of the distance-ed. degree or other factors? Have they been told by some places that their diploma is NOT the one suitable for the position they've applied for?

    Finally, contact (try to speak to directly) a person from human resources who actually does the hiring (not another instructor) from an educational institution you'd actually like to work for. Will they accept the distance-ed. degree you've obtained? Have they found that they would hire from certain distance-degree-issuing institutions and not others? Try to get THEIR recommendations on a program if you can.

    The places that sell these programs will rave to no end about their product, with printed testimonials and so forth. Get it from the horse's mouth, though. Ask the grads and ask potential employers BEFORE you post the cheque.

    Great topic!


  1. Aleth Says:

    Teaching English through internet is perfectly good. I personally would to teach English to those interested.

    Thank you.

  1. Jonathan Says:

    Thank you Brenda that was really very useful to me . You know the bible says people perish for lack of knowledge !
    As far as teaching on the internet is concerned I know Berlitz have tried this idea and found it less than inspiring ...There point when asked was that alot of their teaching requires personal one to one interaction which is not easilly achieved onthe internet !
    I tend to agree . My experiences of trying to set up live msn links must be legendary by now ....also the web cams have to be very good or you have to get ito a chat room to get anything that doesn't look like a robot !
    I don't know if anyone out there has seen someone deliver good online teaching ? I think this makes for a good topic as i for one love the idea of being able to teach through my laptop anywhere in the world !

  1. Karen McCartney Says:

    Can anyone recommend what companies to contact in order to gain employment teaching EFL on line? I am a qualified and experienced teacher and I am also an examiner for IELTS.

  1. Miriam Says:

    I think that it is important to be a bit careful in touting online courses, particularly on a TEFL website. Whilst courses with Open University and the like ARE highly regarded, online CELTA courses, for example, are not generally accepted by any respectable schools. Most good schools will not hire a teacher with an online CELTA. Having worked with and supervised teachers with online CELTA certificates, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that they are VERY ill prepared for teaching English. Therefore I, and most others, see the necessity of a proper, in person, teaching course at the beginning level of English language teaching. Having a CELTA is barely enough to understand English language teaching anyway, and attempting to do this course online simply does not provide adequate practical experience. I realise that your post was on teacher development (and most likely post-CELTA), but as many people will be reading your post and deciding whether to take an online CELTA course, I find it necessary to give a strong warning to those considering them.

  1. Chris Says:

    Does anyone have any comments on the CELTA course with face to face, local delivery?

  1. Chris Says:

    Actually, Brenda, as a private comment; the University of London was doing external degrees with evening class and essay components, decades before the Open University started, but I suppose that is not distance education in the sense we now use it.

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    Thank you, Chris. Yes, you are rght. I used to teach on external degree courses for the University of London..

  1. Bob Says:

    Im fairkly new to TEFL, but Im planning on heading out to China in the spring to teach and Im interested in online TEFL training courses before I go. Does anybody know anything about these guys : http://www.onlineteflcourse.net
    I have a friend already outin China who seemed really happy with them, their course is supposed to be pretty intensive, but I would appreciate any other first hand experience (hard facts only please, not just hearsay or opinion.)

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