The notion of 'distance learning' is often out forward as an alternative to having to choose between either working or studying. However, the question needs to be asked: what is distance learning exactly and is there a difference between this concept and open distance learning?

UNISA is the only university in South Africa that offers open distance learning (ODL). Open distance learning works on the premises of making learning open and accessible to everyone. This is regardless of age, race, economic position, class, disability, criminality, etc.

Strong disability support is offered for disabled students who cannot attend a psychical university. With open distance learning such students are enabled to complete their studying all the way up to a doctoral level.

ODL also caters for students who have mental illnesses. Open distance learning caters for everyone regardless of their particular circumstances, their geographical location or who they are.

Open distance learning focuses on lessening the sense of isolation associated with it by making staff available to assist students with adjusting to the open distance learning experience.

ODL aims to bridge the gap between the learning medium and the learner by not restricting the learning process to either on-site learning or off-site learning. ODL offers both types of learning. You are able to study via tutorial classes, the traditional postal system or the internet. Alternatively you can make use of all of these learning channels.

Open distance learning provides a wide degree of choice and flexibility in the presentation of its offerings. For example its courses are offered in Braille, in audio and printed format and are also available online.

The world is your oyster with ODL. You also have the option of extending your degree duration or applying for loans to fund such a choice. ODL may be seen as a shift in thinking about distance education.

Distance learning, on the other hand, simply refers to learning from a distance. Distance learning refers to correspondence learning and learning off campus. It is limited in many regards and doesn't employ different channels of communication to break the barriers that distance learning creates between the ideal of learning and the individual's actual process of learning.

While other colleges and institutions in South Africa offer the option of studying via correspondence (distance learning), UNISA is the only open distance learning institution in South Africa.

By Lauren Gerber



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