One of the key features of distance learning and also the source of its recognized convenience is separation of the teacher and the student in space and/or time and communication between them by a print or a technology. This fact causes the shift of the control over the learning process from the teacher to the student. This transformation of the real classroom into a virtual one seems to have a number of important consequences.
In traditional education, the course is developed by the instructor, who conducts the class, answers questions and grades the students. In the virtual classroom (or, so-called instructor-facilitated learning), the initiative in suggesting tasks and assignments goes over to the student. Such an approach encourages students' incentive and feedback, thus making the course more sensitive and responsive to their actual expectations.
However, the increased responsibility of the student makes it vital for successful learning that she/he be highly motivated and disciplined in order to achieve satisfying results. Learners need to set their own goals and strive to reach them rather than wait for the teacher to prod them along. Back to the advantages, a wider audience in distance learning makes possible to use resources that are not limited to a certain geographical location for educational purposes. This means that distance education tends to be less stereotypical than one limited to particular location, thus enabling students to take the program that best fits their individual life-style, schedule and educational needs. It also gives them an opportunity to study at their own pace. This is mostly the reason why learning at distance is more attractive to the older students. Learning on their own, however, students feel more isolated than they would do in the traditional classroom. The face-to-face contact with the instructor and one another is missing as well as the competition among the students. Some see it as a serious drawback, whereas others feel it is rather positive.
Another thing that cuts both ways is the mediating technology. On the one hand, it bring in immediacy and makes learning more effective. On the other hand, student must be able to use different computer technologies and cannot possibly refuse it, for they have become an inalienable part of distance learning these days. Sometimes it seems, too, that distance learning lacks the spontaneity of the real classroom. The medium in distance learning buffers the intensiveness of communication and direct support from the teacher, in spite of use of the most advanced technologies. This "personal approach" may also suffer if there are too many students in class and the teacher humanly cannot cope with the e-mail traffic. Nonetheless, it is equally true that the response of the teacher appears to be more personal and resembles that of the personal tutor, which appeals to many students.
Whatever its assets and flaws, distance learning is winning a broadening audience these days. This seems to be due to its being flesh of the flesh of the modern fast-track world that demand high mobility and initiative from a person but also provides increased comfort and greater satisfaction of one's unique needs. Sources: http://www.distancelearning-guide.com