The many varieties of distance learning share the common element of a student who is geographically separate from an instructor, with limited opportunities for face-to-face interaction. As a result, educational content, activities and communication are delivered in text, graphic, audio or video formats either electronically or using physical media such as paper, CD ROM or video tape. The earliest form of distance learning was the correspondence course delivered by mail. Today, distribution through the Internet has become increasingly popular. Most contemporary distance learning employs simple approaches such as presenting text and graphics on web pages or broadcasting classes on-line using video and audio. No existing technology is robust enough to teach all pharmacy content, skills and values at a distance, so distance-learning programs must build in opportunities for face-to-face interaction between students, faculty, practitioners and patients.
Distance learning allows the school to go to the students, if family, work or finances make it impossible to attend a traditional, brick-and-mortar institution. The scheduling flexibility of some distance-learning programs makes them suitable for part-time students. In fact, distance learning has been popular for many years in some non-traditional Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) programs developed for practicing pharmacists with baccalaureate (B.S.) degrees. Distance-learning programs that offer a Pharm.D. to entry-level students, however, are a completely new occurrence.
While distance learning has much to offer place-bound students, some educational experiences may be lost. Going away to school exposes students to life experiences that help to shape interpersonal and coping skills. Daily interaction with pharmacy faculty and peers may assist in developing values and skills for socializing students into the profession. On the other hand, practice environments are continually changing, so distance learners may actually be developing social skills for health-care settings of the future, where interactions between professionals and patients are likely to take place through distance communication as well as face to face.
Learning from a distance is not for everyone, but if you or someone you know has the interest, self-discipline and motivation to succeed in a distance-learning program in pharmacy, then contact colleges or schools with distance-learning pathways to see if one is right for you. A list of ACPE-accredited colleges and schools with distance-learning pathways is on this website.