Distance or Online Education: Challenge to Traditions

Online or distance education has recently become popular and continues to gain momentum. What are the advantages?


Information technologies are challenging traditional higher education. The most popular site of distance education COURSERA has more than 6 million users and offers hundreds of various courses. Students can communicate with teachers, for example, on Skype, take exams and receive certificates. Classes are conducted by independent experts and professors of key universities from Singapore to California.

Today there are two distance education strategies: 

  • a listener is registered, pays tuition fees and only then gets access to courses; 
  • courses are available for free to all comers, and it is necessary to pay for taking the exam and obtaining a certificate.

American universities have taken the second way and feel confident. European were more conservative and already start to lag behind.

Squally spread of online education sharpens the competition for students. Now you can choose: whether to pay for accommodation and learning in an average university or to invest the same money in online education in a first-class university staying at home.


However, distance education is reduced to pragmatic acquiring of knowledge, while the classical university education is always a direct contact of a teacher with students and students with each other, the campus atmosphere, the academic spirit, and starting opportunities.

It also remains unclear how to deal with creative specialties, when the teacher-student contact is an essential component of the learning process. To learn acting skills in absentia? By the way, the economic disciplines, which began this online "smattering" creak in formalizing, because the humanitarian aspect still prevails here. Economics, like it or not, is the science about a human and finance.

In general, distance education is not a new phenomenon. For decades, in our already non-existing country extramural education has been practiced. And nobody had any questions for some reason. Distance education itself in the online format has already "endured" a kind of evolution. Everything started in the 90s, when online training courses began to appear in the network space. The second wave of online education projects has been launched recently. There is a specific date - January 2011. Massive online educational courses, the so-called MOOKs appeared then.

The first was Stanford, gradually other top universities joined. The revolution in the education field is bound with the appearance of MOOKs.

Firstly, elite education, for which previously they had to pay huge amounts unaffordable for many people, becomes almost free and available in all parts of the world. Those who successfully pass the course (and, let's say, to be fair, there are few of such people) receive certificates legally. And may be it is not an absolute analogue of Stanford or Harvard diploma, but the certificate obtained by online audience, in black and white states that indeed the one has listened to the course of those famous Harvard-Stanford professors.

The second and principal moment is connected with the fact that a new design of online courses appears. It is not a two-hour lecture, recorded in the audience, but a set of very short videos with detailed comments. A video typically lasts 7-12 minutes and maximum two ideas are discussed in it.  This format, I must say, absolutely meets modern trends. Recently, scientists have proven that a modern young man is simply physiologically unable to keep attention on something for more than 10 minutes. And if in 2000 this figure was equal to 25 minutes, by 2015 it had already been reduced to 10.

Is it true that we are increasingly going to move to distance learning, and what may it lead to?

On the COURSERA platform, the audience doubles every six months. And yet, while with confidence we can say that online education remains parallel and does not lead to an outflow of students from higher education institutions. Now it is closer to self-education, but the first trends of complete replacement of traditional academic courses with online ones can be already seen. And above all, it concerns the United States.

Elite education is unlikely to ever become remote. Let’s imagine that a well-known professor has lectured brilliantly online. However, neither the fame nor the authority, nor the originality will make a living person from a Skype-image. Most of the developed cultures are highly context dependent, simply speaking, the main reservoir of knowledge is given to students, not through classroom lectures, but in the process of easy communication of a student and a teacher in a hallway, dining room, in a dispute at a seminar, etc.

It is impossible to grow a "high" professional without his direct communication with leaders of the profession! 

At the Moscow State University, for example, they now actively practice a replacement of traditional lectures with stories of the market leaders coming to students about how a particular industry works. The academic staff unanimously approves these trends – only a practician in a live communication can convey the essence to students. Who but him?

Despite all the above, let’s outline the obvious advantages of online innovations in the field of education.

Distance education is not the system imposed from the outside, but a conscious, deliberate choice of a person. In order to make it "work" it is needed to be a very motivated person: "I definitely want to get a Harvard diploma and at the same time not to pay a lot of money", "I, myself, make my own program for life," and finally, "I myself am responsible for investing in myself".

In the history there are many processes that can not be estimated in terms of good/bad, social evil/welfare, but demand immediate decisions to participate/stay outside. We can not stay outside - not allowed by a breakneck pace of technological progress. And 15-20 years will have to pass to assess, when the "digital" generation finally gets socially shaped.