Distance Learning is Revolutionizing Education, but There Is More To Be Done
Distance learning can only continue to revolutionize education in the United States if we can continue to innovate and invest in new technologies and services without unnecessary regulatory burdens.
- By John G. Flores
Distance learning is revolutionizing education in our country, and it's only the beginning.
The implications for students of any age to be able to learn, at any time and from anywhere, without commuting or sitting in a traditional classroom, are enormous. Distance learning has made education, including higher education, more accessible to more people, with nearly a third of all students in higher education are taking at least one online course.
Increased access to broadband connectivity has transformed countless kitchen tables and coffee shops across America into virtual classrooms. In rural communities, distance learning technologies are allowing doctors to connect with colleagues to learn new techniques and procedures. In schools around the country, textbooks are being replaced by interactive tablets that allow students to engage directly with what they are learning. Teachers are able to track the progress of their students in real-time, providing them with the ability to tailor lessons to an individual student's needs.
Today, almost any degree can be earned online — high school, undergraduate and graduate — and students can choose from a variety of schools and programs to help them meet their educational goals. These degrees include additional programs that provide essential job training and workplace skills for people who are looking to enter a new field or expand their knowledge base.
We can only continue this impressive growth if we can continue to innovate and invest in new technologies and services without unnecessary regulatory burdens.
There are three key components of distance learning: the educational content, the platform on which the content is hosted and the network through which the content is delivered. Distance learning can only provide a high-quality learning experience when there are high-speed networks and cutting edge devices to support a dynamic learning experience.
Right now, more than 3.5 million college students are taking online courses or earning online college degrees, and more than 700,000 high school students are taking at least one course online. Not only are we seeing more people taking advantage of distance learning, more interactive and individualized content is being developed for this growing community of distance learners.
How can we continue to meet this growing demand? We need continued and robust investment in content and platforms, but also in networks that are fast enough to deliver the content and reliable enough to connect more people to those learning experiences.
The United States Distance Learning Association's (USDLA) recent National Distance Learning Week (NDLW) commemorated the tremendous growth and achievements occurring in distance learning programs offered by schools, businesses and governmental departments from all across the country. It was also an opportunity to look toward the future of distance learning and consider what we need to do in order to advance it.
This starts with the innovators in the private and public sectors that are bringing learning and information to life for students. Significant strides have been made because we were able to build and improve upon the components of distance learning without unnecessary roadblocks hindering our growth. Continued investment is essential if we are to maintain and improve our country's foundation for dynamic distance learning opportunities. We must all be champions of an environment that fosters that investment.
Today's advanced learning platforms, content and networks have become so integral that learners quite reasonably expect to use technology that is fast and reliable to help them achieve their goals. And yet, students and teachers continue to discover all the ways technology can help them learn, offering stimulating lessons and interactive methods that create invaluable learning experiences. By encouraging continued investment into these 21st century solutions, we can help ensure that distance learning continues to benefit more students every day.
John G. Flores, Ph.D., is executive director of the United States Distance Learning Association & administrator & program professor at Nova Southeastern University's Abraham S. Fischler School of Education