Distance Education

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->Universities offer extensive distance education courses. Over 300 universities and colleges, all fully accredited, now offer degrees in approximately 750 different fields through distance education. Many courses are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. A growing audience of professions is seeking certification. Workers are depending on distance education for self-growth and updating of skills. Every school system in the country is getting wired.Universities offer extensive distance education courses. Over 300 universities and colleges, all fully accredited, now offer degrees in approximately 750 different fields through distance education. Many courses are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. A growing audience of professions is seeking certification. Workers are depending on distance education for self-growth and updating of skills. Every school system in the country is getting wired.

Whether the form of distance learning is synchronous (real time, with fixed meeting times equivalent to classroom instruction) or asynchronous (no fixed time or location, and student not in communication with the instructor or each other at the same time) we see an increase of Web, cable and satellite distribution of education. A number of observations can be made.

  • Software to create and build dynamic interactive learning environments is better and more easily available.
  • A number of packages offer multiple functions and capabilities for creating and delivering Internet-based distance learning lessons.
  • When institutions commit to significant organization changes, online learning becomes cost effective. The largest component of online cost is faculty time. Different models for using teaching assistants and design teams are being investigated. Faculty spends as much or more time managing an online course than a traditional course. Schools and universities are not making tons of money offering distanced education courses -- cost-benefits are still anticipated.
  • Developing appropriate financial arrangements with faculty to develop online courses is essential. Various models to do so exist. For example, Penn State splits revenues with the faculty members who develop courses. New York University holds ownership rights for its online classes.
  • Reports comparing distance education and traditional instruction indicate teaching at a distance can be as effective as traditional instruction: 1) where the methods used are appropriate to the instructional objectives; 2) where student-student interaction exists; and 3) where there is ongoing teacher-to-student feedback (interaction is of critical importance to the learning process). Direct communication with students via a bulletin board, private mail, chats, etc. are very effective. Students appreciate written comments by the instructor and their peers on work in progress. The level of interaction between instructor and learner varies and depends on the preparation of the instructor.
  • Greater attention is being paid to instructor training, with emphasis on learner support issues such as feedback, assignments, testing, discussions, etc. Susan Metros, director of Innovation Technology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, relates that a number of workshops are available to prepare instructors to build distance education courses. Also, ongoing assistance is provided.
  • High Speed Connectivity is contributing to the growth of Distance Education. A modem-based system is inadequate for the various multimedia services now available. Current network speeds prohibit extensive use.
  • A growing number of institutions are accepting each other's distance education courses, making it easier for students to fulfill their institution's requirements. This is causing administrators to think of distance education as an alternative to construction and maintenance of new buildings. It is hoped that much planning will be involved in this thinking.
  • Collaboration between Business and Technology continues, especially at the post-graduate level. Programs originate from institutions, such as Boston University, MIT, Penn State, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Stanford University. This is bound to grow.
  • Videoconferencing allows for interaction between individuals and with groups. It is effectively used for staff development and to provide opportunities for entering institutions such as museums, libraries or archeological finds that would otherwise be unavailable. There are really no boundaries to videoconferencing opportunities.

Conclusion

Educational institutions face reduced resources and increased demand for distance education courses. Competitors, from companies such as Disney and Motorola, have built their own university systems, developing Internet-based classroom instruction. Kaplan's, the test preparation company owned by the Washington Post, launched its virtual law school last year. The demand for self-paced, individual education, accessed synchronously or asynchronously using satellite linkages, the Internet or cable shall grow. Educators must be ready.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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