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Distance Learning Pros and Cons

May 1, 2021

Distance learning, often called distance education, is the process by which students utilize the internet to attend classes and complete courses, without having to physically attend a school. Prior to COVID-19, distance learning was experiencing steady growth. During the pandemic those numbers grew exponentially due to the global shut down of schools and the necessity for distance education. Many schools had to come up with online education plans and bring both teachers and students up to speed on distance learning technologies.

Recent research points out that, while overall enrollment declined through Fall 2020 because of COVID-19, colleges that offer primarily online instruction saw increases. In fact, Fall 2020 saw a 7% increase in enrollment at online institutions compared to a 5% increase in Spring 2020.  

Beyond the pandemic-related shifts to online education, there are many reasons students may want to pursue distance education as opposed to traditional schooling. Similarly, there are many pros and cons to this kind of learning, and as it gains popularity, it’s important to research and learn if this kind of learning could be a good fit for you. 

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What are the Pros and Cons of Distance Learning?

Some students may encounter problems with distance learning or issues with online education. It may not be the best fit for everyone. But other students will find major value in online education. You simply need to weigh the pros and cons and decide if it’s a good fit for you.

Technical Elements

Online or distance learning often has technology involved to help you do your coursework.

Pros: There are many pros to the technology element of distance learning. Many students are able to learn new tech and excel in it. They can feel confident with their technological abilities and even list on their resume the kinds of programs they used as part of their coursework. Another huge pro with technology as part of learning is that you can pursue your education from anywhere that has internet access. Students don’t have to go to a campus to learn. Thanks to technology, anywhere can become their classroom. Furthermore, the rise of virtual tools like Zoom, Slack, Blackboard, and Google Classroom have made it even easier for students and teachers to share information and connect. 

Cons: Sometimes students will find there are technical difficulties with online learning. There may be days when their internet doesn’t work, when programs and software are down, and they’re unable to access their courses. This can be frustrating for many students, though often these bugs are fixed quickly and students are able to continue with their work.


Every student wants to know that their work will be valuable to a potential employer. Are online colleges credible? Is online learning effective? These may be questions students ask when considering distance learning. 

Pros: More employers than ever before recognize that online learning is credible and legitimate.

What’s important to employers is that your school is accredited. Many schools work hard to make sure they’re accredited and reputable so students get a degree that is valuable to them and to employers. Additionally, employers may respect you more for having received an online education; they’ll recognize the time and discipline it takes to pursue distance learning and may be more impressed by it. 

Research also supports the fact that online degrees are becoming more respected in the eyes of employers. According to a survey by Career Builder, 83% of executives say that an online degree is as credible as one earned through a traditional program. A similar study found 61% of HR leaders view online credentials as equal to those completed in person. 

Cons: Some employers and companies may still have a hard time with online education. When employers don’t understand the rigor and quality of an online education, they may be hesitant to hire someone with an online degree. Additionally, for-profit or non-accredited online schools are often a huge issue for credibility. When it comes to pursuing an online degree, make sure the online program is accredited and offers marketable credentials. Communicating these factors typically validates a program to potential employers. 


Flexibility is the main reason many people choose online education. But there are pros and cons involved with the flexibility of distance learning. 

Pros: If you have a full-time job or family responsibilities, the flexibility of online education is the biggest pro for you. Distance learning means that you don’t have to worry about things like commuting to and from school, coordinating childcare, or leaving work to attend class. You can continue with your job and family needs and do your schooling when the timing is right for you. And at institutions like WGU, you can largely work at a pace that works for you. With competency-based education, you can move more quickly through material you understand well, and spend more time on material you need help with. This flexibility means that you are in charge of your schedule and your schooling.

Cons: Some distance learning doesn’t offer as much flexibility as you need, requiring you to log in to class time or view discussions as they happen. While it still may be more convenient than driving to a campus, this scheduled online learning may lack the flexibility you need. WGU, for instance, doesn’t require you to log in at a certain time to view lectures or have discussions. You truly have the flexibility you want and need. However, the flexibility of online learning can be difficult for those who are not self-motivated. Since you’re not expected to show up at a certain time, you need the discipline to make time for your education.

Social Interactions

Some students are concerned that distance learning means they’re entirely alone. But for many online students, that’s simply not the case.

Pros: Online learning often offers many opportunities for students to interact with others. For example, WGU students often work with their Program Mentor over the phone or email, giving them an important lifeline. Students can also interact with faculty for their courses if they have questions or concerns. Additionally, student networking allows WGU students to interact and socialize, compare thoughts on courses, and offer help. And a large alumni network means you can continue to make connections throughout your career. Many online universities offer similar social options for students to interact and connect. 

Cons: For students who truly want face-to-face interactions, distance learning simply may not be the best option. While you can get interactions with online education, they’re frequently over the phone or internet.

Is Distance Learning Right for Me?

If you’re thinking about an online degree program, it’s important to ask yourself: 

  • Do I have the self-discipline and motivation to do distance learning? 
  • Do I have the time to commit to an online education? 
  • Do I feel comfortable asking for help? 

While online learning may not be for everyone, many of the questions students have about pursuing distance education can be answered. Some students will find that for them, the pros greatly outweigh the cons when it comes to considering distance learning. If you’re ready to pursue higher education in a way that truly works best for you, consider WGU.

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