What is distance education?
Distanceeducation is defined as a broad system of education which delivers instruction and education to students who are not physically present as they would be in a traditional classroom setting. Distance education, sometimes referred as distance learning, is a way for students to be instructed through non-traditional means while they are not actually present in front of an instructor in a classroom. Distance education, then, is a way to provide access to learning for students when the source of the information--such as the teacher--and the students are not connected due to factors such as distance and time. Some types of distance education require the student's presence in a physical location for certain reasons, such as taking examinations or getting together with groups for projects--these types of distance education are usually referred to as "blended education," since they do require the student to bridge the disconnect between themselves and their instructor in what is usually atraditional classroom setting.
A brief history of distance education
Although most people think of the internet when they think of distance education, forms of distance education have been around for several centuries. A type of distance education can be found in recorded history as early as 1728 with an advertisement in the Boston Gazette which promoted teaching Short Hand writing through weekly lessons that would be mailed through the post. A similar short hand course was taught by Isaac Pitman in the 1840s. Distance education in the past was not limited to mail-in advertisements, however. In 1858, the University of London became the first known university to offer degrees which would be obtained through distance learning with its External Programme being established in 1858. In the 1890s, a private, for-profit school established courses which were meant to train immigrant coal miners to become state mine inspectors or state mine foremen; by 1895, 72,000 students had graduated using their distance learning program that involved sending out complete course books to its students.
Throughout the 20th century, numerous universities around the globe used distance education--commonly called "Correspondence Courses." These correspondence courses were particularly popular in rural areas where travel to a university or school was difficult or impossible.
Not all types of distance education in the 20th century, however, were done strictly through correspondence and mailed lesson plans or text books. By the late 1930s, at least 200 different city school systems--including many universities--used the radio to broadcast educational programs and lesson plans to learners. Universities even began to offer college-by-radio courses, which involved students listening to radio educational courses, then completing workbooks and textbook supplemental material after listening. In 1948, the president of the University of Louisville predicted that this so-called "college-by-radio" would become the new norm in America.
The advent of the personal computer and the internet made distance learning even easier and more accessible than its previous incarnations through the radio and traditional mail. Jones InternationalUniversity, established in 1996, is one of the first fully online accredited universities; between the years 2000 and 2008, enrollment in at least some type of distance learning program by college students increase from about 8 percent to 20 percent.
Today, countless numbers of colleges, universities, schools and private institutions now offer distance education courses and even distance education certificates and degrees. Even highly esteemed universities, such as Stanford University and Harvard University, now offer distance learning online courses for their students.
What are the technologies used in distance education?
The ever-expanding types of technology being developed allow for even more intricate and personal distance learning education. IN the past, distance learning was limited to simpler forms of technology—such as sending out lessons or course books in the mail, or using the radio to broadcast lesson plans to listeners at home. Today, however, technology has created an increasingly more complicated and potentially more beneficial type of distance education.
The most common type of technology used in distance education today is the personal computer in combination with the internet. Instead of forcing students to rely on static textbooks or coursework which they simply send back to the university in the mail, the internet allows for interaction between the student and the instructor, despite barriers such as distance and time. This allows for the student to send their instructor their homework, essays, and other coursework; the instructor can then send the student back their grade, revisions, thoughts—and so on. Students may also participate online with other students in the same distance education course, through online chat rooms, course forums, email, and other methods of online communication.
The internet also allows for increasingly custom types of distance education. An online course may be altered by the instructor to suit the needs and level of the students taking the course; the course may also be done through a variety of different online technologies. These technologies include video streaming, audio streaming, chat rooms, forums, power points, internet radio programs, live streaming, email correspondence—and more. Today, someone taking a distance learning course can have social interaction with both instructors and their peers without ever having to leave their personal computer. They can even take their online coursework “on the go” with their computer, completing it whether they are at home or in another area, such as if they are on vacation.
Why is distance education beneficial?
Distance education benefits countless numbers of people for a variety of different reasons. The most common reason that people today have for enrolling in distance education is a barrier of distance or time. Some people may live in areas which are too far from physical universities; other people may not have a personal schedule which allows them to spend most of their day in a physical classroom. Someone with a full time job, for example, may benefit in particular from distance education because it allows them to complete the coursework online in their own time rather than requiring them to rework their working schedule or take time off to be present in a physical classroom.