Most of us are familiar with the idea of learning in a classroom environment, having spent a great part of our younger years at school. Some find this an overwhelmingly positive experience, whereas others simply cannot wait to leave compulsory education.

It is recognised that learning styles vary dramatically, so what suits one person may not suit another. For example, some people find it easy to absorb information directly from a teacher, while others prefer to gain their knowledge from books or the internet. Similarly, students may like to share ideas with their peers or opt for a more solitary working style.

In comparison to the rigid structure of school, adult education offers a greater variety of options, allowing people to choose a course that best meets their personal requirements. Study can take place in a classroom or through distance learning, full time or part time, covering an almost limitless array of academic and vocational subjects.

This level of choice means that anyone considering their study options must decide the most effective route for achieving their desired learning outcomes. One of the key questions is whether the benefits of distance learning can outweigh those offered by classroom-based courses.

In a survey recently conducted by Home Learning College amongst 3,000 British adults, 37 per cent had undertaken some form of study since the age of 25. Further investigation showed that three quarters were familiar with the concept of distance learning, and a quarter had studied for a new qualification via this method.

Whatever the specific structure, one of the main advantages of distance learning is the significantly enhanced level of flexibility when compared to traditional courses. Rather than being tied to academic term dates - which might mean waiting almost a whole year should an enrolment deadline be missed - distance learning can generally start and finish at any time.

In today’s increasingly busy society, distance learning also means that there is no need to attend classes at a set time every week, which can test the commitment of even the most dedicated student. Learning can be fitted around existing professional and personal responsibilities, allowing people to gain a new qualification while maintaining their earning power, family life and leisure time. In fact, in a study conducted by our training partner Home Learning College almost two thirds (57per cent) cited the ability to continue working while studying, and to work at their own pace, as the key benefits of distance learning. Interestingly, a further 16 per cent said that distance learning would allow them to avoid feeling embarrassed in front of their peers should they get something wrong or take longer to pick up a particular concept. This shows that confidence can be a real issue in inhibiting adult learning, which can be easily addressed by taking study out of the classroom environment.

In the past, distance learning may have been viewed as a lonely and somewhat isolating experience. However, the recent explosion in communication technologies – particularly those accessible via the internet such as the Home Learning College Virtual Learning Community (VLC) – means that students can now experience as much a sense of community and dedicated tutorial support as those who attend traditional face-to-face classes.

These points aside, distance learning also performs well when compared with the grades and pass rates achieved through classroom-based education. A recent US-based study showed that 62 per cent of Chief Academic Officers rated learning outcomes for online instruction as the same or superior to those for face-to-face instruction.

Having considered all these factors, it becomes obvious that distance learning has much to offer today’s prospective student when compared with the rigid structure of classroom-based teaching. This truly is learning for the modern age and is a trend that’s likely to grow in popularity over the coming years.

To find out more about the variety of courses on offer for distance learning click here