What are the Pros and Cons of the Army Distance Learning Program?

Benjamin R. Kibbey

Much like his military training, what a soldier gets out of the U.S. Army Distance Learning Program can be highly dependent on the soldier. The program is intended to offer advantages to soldiers, having been designed specifically to address the schedules and other demands placed on members of the Army, but the coursework still may be challenging and require serious effort and dedication to complete. In one sense, the advantages of the Army Distance Learning Program can be the same as the disadvantages of the Army Distance Learning Program.

The Army Distance Learning Program is designed for the schedule and other demands of Army members.
The Army Distance Learning Program is designed for the schedule and other demands of Army members.

The most obvious feature of the Army Distance Learning Program with both positive and negative aspects is in apparent in its name: distance. The program allows soldiers in any location — whether at a base in the continental United States or at a frontline combat outpost — to work on classes that fulfill requirements of advancement within the military, to work toward a new classification, or even to begin or complete a college degree. Especially for those deployed, this may be an ideal way to spend time that might otherwise be spent idly, and many pick deployments as a time to begin or continue an academic pursuit for precisely this reason.

When a person is in a school setting — even part-time or night school — he is surrounded by other students, regularly attend classes that reinforce lessons and place emphasis on the primacy of studies, and interact with instructors on a personal level that encourages good performance. Within a deployed environment, the immediate stresses and concerns may cause a soldier to judge scholastic endeavors as unimportant by comparison. In addition, if the other soldiers are not also engaged in distance learning, the lack of a sense of peer expectation that can exist within a learning environment may be replaced by a desire to play down or hide educational activity so as not to stand out. The dedication of the soldier is paramount in determining success when taking courses from such a distance.

The Army Distance Learning Program also offers the potential for people to work, to an extent, at their own pace and within their own schedules. This is to accommodate soldiers facing demanding and irregular schedules at their home base or even while deployed, but it may still require a certain amount of individual initiative. While this may suit some perfectly, others may prefer or even require the structure of a traditional classroom schedule to reach their maximum potential.

The Army makes advisers available to assist soldiers and address any issues they may have but, outside of the education centers, contact with advisers is via a computer. For a soldier on a deployment or in a time-consuming duty position, messaging an adviser at any time of the day or night rather than having to schedule a visit during restrictive hours can be a huge advantage. For those who prefer more direct interaction, the system may feel impersonal. Still, for many who use distance learning, the only alternative is simply halting their education.

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