Guide to Distance Learning

Distance learning is one of the most dramatic technology-based changes occurring in education today. Communication technology enables learners to receive instruction despite geographic and time disparities that would make traditional classroom instruction impossible. Why should you consider distance education? Chances are it will open up educational possibilities you didn’t know existed. Distance instruction is learner-centered—that is, it enables learners to tailor the instruction that they are receiving to meet their individual needs. Some distance programs use print media, some use telecommunications, and many use both, but geographic and time separation of the student and the teacher is a fundamental characteristic of distance education. Multimedia instruction with networked computers, video systems, or television may be used to connect the local classroom to learners at a distance. Satellite, compressed video, and fiber-optic systems are increasingly used for same-time, different-place education. This approach is also called synchronous distance learning. Students can also learn at different times and in different places. This approach is called asynchronous distance learning. Interactive instruction is possible because the technologies used permit the learner to contact databases, information sources, instructional experts, and other students in real-time and interactive ways. For example, individual students can use their computers to contact other students or individuals who have information they need. Entire classes can participate in interactive video sessions with teachers from remote sites or with groups of students from other schools. An instructor can orchestrate the individual learning activities of students who collaborate with other learners, with the teacher, and with multimedia technology available locally or via the Internet. Distance learning encourages collaboration without the limitations of time and location inherent to the brick-and-mortar classroom. Distance education has a major and varied impact worldwide. The following three examples illustrate some of the factors that influence distance education and show the demand for distance learning opportunities. The practice of distance education has dramatically changed since the early 1990s. Educators are using technology to increase the distant learner’s access to the local classroom, to improve access of all learners to resources, and to make the experience of the remote student comparable to that of the local learner. Distance education no longer relies as heavily as it used to on the delivery of print and broadcast media technologies. Recent innovations in hardware, software, and Internet technologies have made telecommunications-based distance education systems more available, easier to use, and less costly.

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