Distance Education

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->Distance education is booming and the Internet is increasingly available to most off-site students. Instructors are providing course materials (syllabi, assignments, handouts, etc.), assignments, grades and discussions over the Web. Typical distance learners are those who don’t have access to programs, employees who work during scheduled class hours, homebound individuals, self-motivated individuals who want to take courses for self-knowledge or advancement, or those who are unable or unwilling to attend classes. The rapid growth of technology and the spreading use of e-learning have eliminated the need for students to be physically present if this growth is to continue. According to Merrill Lynch, total technology-delivered education is projected to grow from $3.0 billion in 1998 to $8.2 billion in 2001, a compound annual growth of nearly 40%.

 

Distance education is available anytime, anyplace and provides technical, administrative and instructional support to the learner. The following characteristics have been noted as those that make distance education programs more successful.

 

·         Clearly defined performance- and competency-based objectives that are understood by both instructor and learner.

·         Acceptance of students with the background, knowledge and technical skills needed to undertake the program.

·         Manageable class size — classes have enrollment of 15 to 30 students.

·         Instructors are available at regular, stated hours.

·         Demonstrated commitments and ongoing support, both financial and technical, exist for continuation of the program for a period sufficient to enable students to complete a degree of certification, if so desired.

·         Institution evaluates its programs’ educational effectiveness, including assessment of student learning objectives.

 

The use of the Internet and related technologies is making distance education more credible and effective. Its use by educators and the business sector is greatly increasing. To cite a few examples:

 

•     Sacred Heart University initiated an Internet-delivered bachelor’s of science degree in nursing for RNs to meet the needs of 5,700 students attending five campuses in Connecticut and one campus in Luxembourg.

•     The IRS recently awarded contracts that could total around $100 million for development of training services, including computer-based training and distance learning.

•     A group in the United Kingdom has been formed, consisting of members from four higher education funding bodies: The Higher Education Funding Council for England, The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, The Higher Education Council for Scotland, and the Department of Education of Northern Ireland. The group will discuss proposals to create an e-university able to offer online courses of study leading to an entirely Internet-based degree.

 

Distance education is often stated as a cost-saving alternative method of education delivery. However, it has not been determined whether it is a cost-effective alternative to campus-based education, except in cases where large class sizes can be assured. An interesting example of an institution that states it saves money via distance education is the University of Ph'enix. It has formed a for-profit enterprise with 40,000 students and over 5,000 staff. Three undergraduate and three graduate degrees in business administration are offered entirely on the Web. They rely exclusively on part-time faculty, mostly practitioners in their fields, earning less than university faculty.

 

Other means have been found to help finance distance education. Partnerships with public and private companies are effective. Institutions should make it a priority to work together to share costs and meet the needs of the lifelong learners outside the boundaries of the traditional institution.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.

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