Distance education or distance learning is a field of education that focuses on teaching methods and technology with the aim of delivering teaching, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional educational setting such as a classroom. It has been described as "a process to create and provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both." Distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason (including taking examinations) have been referred to as hybrid or blended courses of study.
History and development
Distance education dates to at least as early as 1728, when "an advertisement in the Boston Gazette...[named] 'Caleb Phillips, Teacher of the new method of Short Hand" was seeking students for lessons to be sent weekly.
Modern distance education initially relied on the development of postal services in the 19th century and has been practised at least since Isaac Pitman taught shorthand in Great Britain via correspondence in the 1840s. The University of London claims to be the first university to offer distance learning degrees, establishing its External Programme in 1858. This program is now known as the University of London International Programmes and includes Postgraduate, Undergraduate and Diploma degrees created by colleges such as the London School of Economics, Royal Holloway and Goldsmiths.  In the United States William Rainey Harper, first president of the University of Chicago developed the concept of extended education, whereby the research university had satellite colleges of education in the wider community, and in 1892 he also encouraged the concept of correspondence school courses to further promote education, an idea that was put into practice by Columbia University. In Australia, the University of Queensland established its Department of Correspondence Studies in 1911.
More recently, Charles Wedemeyer of the University of Wisconsin–Madison is considered significant in promoting methods other than the postal service to deliver distance education in America. From 1964 to 1968, the Carnegie Foundation funded Wedemeyer's Articulated Instructional Media Project (AIM) which brought in a variety of communications technologies aimed at providing learning to an off-campus population. According to Moore's recounting, AIM impressed the UK which imported these ideas when establishing in 1969 The Open University, which initially relied on radio and television broadcasts for much of its delivery.. Athabasca University, Canada's Open University, was created in 1970 and followed a similar, though independently developed, pattern. Germany's FernUniversität in Hagen followed in 1974 and there are now many similar institutions around the world, often with the name Open University (in English or in the local language). All "open universities" use distance education technologies as delivery methodologies and some have grown to become 'mega-universities', a term coined to denote institutions with more than 100,000 students.
The development of computers and the internet have made distance learning distribution easier and faster and have given rise to the 'virtual university, the entire educational offerings of which are conducted online. In 1996 Jones International University was launched and claims to be the first fully online university accredited by a regional accrediting association in the US.
In 2006, the Sloan Consortium, a body which arguably has a conflict of interest in the matter, reported that:More than 96 percent of the very largest institutions (more than 15,000 total enrollments) have some online offerings, which is more than double the rate observed for the smallest institutions.
and that almost 3.2 million US students were taking at least one online course during the fall term of 2005.
Today, there are many private and public, non-profit and for-profit institutions worldwide offering distance education courses from the most basic instruction through to the highest levels of degree and doctoral programs. Levels of accreditation vary: some of the institutions receive little outside oversight, and some may be fraudulent diploma mills, although in many jurisdictions, an institution may not use terms such as "university" without accreditation and authorisation, often overseen by the national government - for example, the Quality Assurance Agency in the UK. In the US, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) specializes in the accreditation of distance education institutions.
Technologies used in delivery
Synchronous learning technology is a mode of delivery where all participants are "present" at the same time. It resembles traditional classroom teaching methods despite the participants being located remotely. It requires a timetable to be organized. Web conferencing, videoconferencing, Educational television, Instructional television are examples of synchronous technology, as are direct-broadcast satellite (DBS), internet radio, live streaming, telephone, and web-based VoIP.
The asynchronous learning mode of delivery is where participants access course materials on their own schedule and so is more flexible. Students are not required to be together at the same time. Mail correspondence, which is the oldest form of distance education, is an asynchronous delivery technology and others include message board forums, e-mail, video and audio recordings, print materials, voicemail and fax.
The two methods can be combined in the delivery of one course. For example, some courses offered by The Open University use periodic sessions of residential or day teaching to supplement the remote teaching.
Other technology methods used in the delivery of distance education include online three-dimensional (3D) virtual worlds. A popular 3D virtual world, Active Worlds, is used for synchronous and asynchronous learning. Active Worlds provides opportunities for students to work collaboratively.
Major benefits of use: an institutional perspective
Diana G. Oblinger, writing specifically of the US context, has identified four broad reasons why educational institutions might embrace distance learning:
- Expanding access: distance education can assist in meeting the demand for education and training demand from the general populace and businesses, especially because it offers the possibility of a flexibility to accommodate the many time-constraints imposed by personal responsibilities and commitments.
- Alleviate capacity constraints: being mostly or entirely conducted off-site, the system reduces the demand on institutional infrastructure such as buildings.
- Making money from emerging markets: she claims an increasing acceptance from the population of the value of lifelong learning, beyond the normal schooling age, and that institutions can benefit financially from this by adopting distance education. She sees sectors of education such as courses for business executives as being "more lucrative than traditional markets".
- Catalyst for institutional transformation: the competitive modern marketplace demands rapid change and innovation, for which she believes distance education programs can act as a catalyst.
Casey and Lorenzen have identified another financial benefit for the institutions of the US, stating that distance education creates new graduates who might be willing to donate money to the school who would have never have been associated with the school under the traditional system.
- Continuing education
- Degree completion program
- Electronic learning
- Public, educational, and government access (PEG)
- Sunrise Semester
- Virtual education
- Virtual learning environment
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- ^ Vaughan, Dr Norman D. (2010). "Blended Learning". In Cleveland-Innes, M.F.; Garrison, D.R.. An Introduction to Distance Education: Understanding Teaching and Learning in a New Era. Taylor & Francis. p. 165. ISBN 0415995981. http://books.google.com/books?id=AI5as0yooGoC. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
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- ^ Moore, Michael G.; Greg Kearsley (2005). Distance Education: A Systems View (Second ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-50688-7.
- ^ "Key Facts", University of London External Programme Website, http://www.londoninternational.ac.uk/about_us/facts.shtml
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- ^ White, M. (1982). "Distance education in Australian higher education — a history". Distance Education 3 (2): 255–278.
- ^ Moore, Michael G.; Greg Kearsley (2005). Distance Education: A Systems View (Second ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-50688-7. , pages 33-36
- ^ Byrne, T.C. (1989). Athabasca University The Evolution of Distance Education. Calgary, Alberta: University of Calgary Press. pp. 135. ISBN 0-919813-51-8.
- ^ "Three Decades". UK: FernUniversität in Hage. http://www.fernuni-hagen.de/english/profile/3decades/learning.shtml. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- ^ Daniel, Sir John S. (1998). Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education. Routledge. ISBN 0749426349. http://books.google.com/books?id=Sy3nDKphDAkC. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- ^ Gold, Larry; Maitland, Christine (1999). Phipps, Ronald A.; Merisotis, Jamie P.. eds. What's the difference? A review of contemporary research on the effectiveness of distance learning in higher education. Washington DC: Institute for Higher Education Policy. http://books.google.com/books?ei=ldA7TcruEZG38gODpYykCA. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- ^ "Accreditation". US: Jones International University. http://www.international.edu/about/history/accreditation. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
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- ^ "Degree awarding powers and university title". UK: Quality Assurance Agency. http://www.qaa.ac.uk/reviews/dap/default.asp. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- ^ http://www.detc.org/accred.html
- ^ a b Lever-Duffy, Judy; McDonald, Jean B. (March 2007). Teaching and Learning with Technology. Ana A. Ciereszko, Al P. Mizell (3rd ed.). Allyn & Bacon. p. 377. ISBN 0205511910. http://books.google.com/books?id=9wxKAAAAYAAJ. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- ^ Dickey, Michele, D. (2005). "Three-dimensional virtual worlds and distance learning:". British Journal of Educational Technology 36 (3): 439–451. http://mchel.com/Papers/BJET_36_3_2005.pdf. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- ^ Oblinger, Diana G. (2000). "The Nature and Purpose of Distance Education". The Technology Source (Michigan: Michigan Virtual University) (March/April). http://technologysource.org/article/nature_and_purpose_of_distance_education/. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
- ^ Casey, Anne Marie; Lorenzen, Michael (2010). "Untapped Potential: Seeking Library Donors Among Alumni of Distance Learning Programs". Journal of Library Administration (Routledge) 50 (5): 515–529. doi:10.1080/01930826.2010.48859. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a925852901~db=all~jumptype=rss. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
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