Top 4 Distance Learning Advantages for K–12 and Higher Education Institutions

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected multiple aspects of day-to-day living, impacting the way people work, shop, socialize and learn. After schools, colleges and universities shuttered their doors abruptly in March 2020, distance learning became more common. Despite the initial discomfort of adjusting to a new way of teaching and learning, distance education itself is nothing new.

Studies indicate that the number of higher education students taking at least one online course grew by 2 million between 2012 and 2019. According to National Center for Education Statistics, about 21% of public kindergarten through 12th grade (K–12) schools offered courses entirely online during the 2017–2018 school year. By 2019, over 2.7 million students across the US took part in some form of distance learning.

There are many distance learning advantages for students and faculty. For example, students can learn at their own pace, and teachers get back time otherwise spent commuting to and from school. However, the benefits of distance learning also extend to the schools themselves. This post explores the advantages of distance learning for higher education institutions and K–12 schools.

1. Improved Talent Acquisition and Retention

Building a team of experienced, talented educators can be difficult and time-consuming. Distance learning removes the burden of living and working within a set geographic boundary. A virtual classroom is available from anywhere with an internet connection, greatly expanding the available talent pool to the maximum extent that applicable laws allow.

According to the Department of Education, K–12 public schools in more than 40 states reported teacher shortages in the 2020–2021 academic year. These shortages are pronounced in rural areas especially, 62% of which cited a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educators. Online learning helps overcome these shortages because teachers can do their jobs from anywhere in the world.

Disconnecting the job from the place also reduces teacher turnover, which costs the US up to $2.2 billion annually. The teacher turnover rate varies from state to state—Arizona experiences a 24% annual turnover while the country’s southeast region has a 17% congregate turnover rate. Low retention rates are often connected to low pay rates.

Distance learning could bridge the gap that leaves some educators unable to afford to live in the areas where they teach, allowing educators to connect with students digitally from anywhere without the long commutes and high costs of living.

2. Increased Team Diversification

Distance learning helps schools and universities build teams that reflect their students. However, many educational institutes struggle to build diverse educational teams. By widening the hiring pool beyond the immediate geographic area, schools can encourage a greater diversity of applicants. This helps increase educational equity and access to certified teachers.

According to the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Black, Latino and Indigenous American students are more likely to attend schools with high concentrations of first-year teachers. In addition to being less experienced, new teachers face a higher turnover rate, especially in high-poverty schools.

For minority students, educational outcomes are impacted by unequal access to educational resources. Two-thirds of minority students attend minority-majority schools that are often underfunded compared to neighboring districts. Distance learning can help increase access to learning opportunities, ensuring all students have skilled teachers and quality curricula.

3. Fewer Learning Disruptions

Over the past five years, many school districts have shifted away from canceling school due to poor weather conditions. Instead, schools opt for remote learning when disruptions make in-person attendance dangerous. Distance learning means learning is not impacted by adverse events. Instead of having to tack on extra days at the end of the school year to meet quotas, students work remotely and preserve the full span of summer break.

For example, in 2015, Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland cut spring break short and added three days to the end of the school year to make up for adverse winter weather events the previous semester. While many school districts do not keep year-over-year closure data, The Atlantic found that in a 10-year period, Jefferson County Public Schools, in Louisville, Kentucky, had 50 weather-related closures. Districts in Columbus, Ohio and Oklahoma City closed for 42 and 43 days, respectively, in that same period.

Poor weather and other emergencies are not the only stopgaps in education. Distance learning advantages also extend to individuals with health conditions. Students can complete coursework on their own time, eliminating the burden of strict attendance policies. In addition, online learning can help create a healthier school community. Pre-pandemic, many schools placed a premium on attendance and took a lax stance about students coming to school with mild symptoms.

For example, mild respiratory symptoms such as sneezing or a stuffy nose might not warrant missing school. Attendance Works, one of the largest attendance advocacy organizations, has recommended suspending the use of “How Sick is Too Sick?” guidelines in the wake of COVID-19. With distance learning, students and staff would not have to weigh the pros and cons of coming to school or taking a sick day.

4. Increased Instructional Support

For both K–12 and higher education, distance learning provides online access to materials. Online access to materials and digital content helps level the playing field because schools are not faced with the burden of expensive physical textbooks and replacing physical materials, such as workbooks and writing tools.

This makes it easier to track student progress. Teachers can access assignments, discussion boards and other learning resources from a single location online. Not only does this reduce the chance of lost tests or assignments but also it creates a more streamlined approach to lesson planning and grading. Distance learning also eliminates the distractions of a traditional classroom environment.

For example, when a teacher needs to gauge student understanding, the students can use discussion forums or a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” chat response. Easier, more adaptable communication between instructors and learners can lead to better educational outcomes. It also eases the burden on faculty who may not have time to answer all students’ questions before or after class. Communicating by email or chat gives teachers the extra time to respond to each student with a thoughtful answer.

Distance learning advantages also include the potential to create new courses or degree programs that are entirely virtual. According to a recent survey, currently, around two in 10 K–12 schools plan to establish or expand their online course offerings.

Some institutions are already seeing the benefits of distance learning. From 2012 to 2017, UMass Online’s course enrollments increased from 54,000 to 75,000. This enrollment growth allowed UMass Online to offer additional degree programs, thanks to the increase in school revenue. While the fiscal year 2012 revenue totaled $72 million, it increased yearly and reached a total of $104 million for the 2016–2017 school year.

University systems can reinvest this increased revenue in areas such as new degree programs, advanced technology, research and development efforts, building and lab renovations, and more.

Harness Distance Learning Advantages with Parallels RAS

Remote learning and instruction benefits students, teachers and schools. For a seamless distance learning experience, K–12 and higher education institutions can leverage Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS).

As a comprehensive virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution, Parallels RAS enables remote access to desktops and applications from any location, at any time, from any device—including smartphones and tablets. Students and educators can work or study regardless of their location. This increases talent pool access, promotes a better work/life balance and can help reduce teacher turnover rates.

Parallels RAS also helps schools reduce overall education IT costs, which is particularly helpful for schools that face budget cuts or shortages. Centralizing the IT infrastructure reduces overall complexity, giving IT teams time to work on other high-priority tasks. Since all desktops and applications are hosted on a central server, IT can secure and maintain sensitive data and resources easily.

Parallels RAS is also more affordable than many other virtualization solutions, increasing return on investment and reducing the total cost of ownership (TCO).

Learn more about the benefits of Parallels RAS for distance learning.