In the last few years, the methods for the delivery of professional and educational training have radically changed. More knowledge and information are required from people in order to achieve an active role in their social and professional life. At the same time, the period of validity of new information and the currency of competencies quickly decrease. As a consequence, continuing education is perceived as necessary, even if the traditional methods of delivery are sometimes limited by the distance between the learner and the training centers. For this reason many continuing education programs make use of distance learning techniques that make the adoption of distance education programs more popular.
The Evolution Of Distance Education
The distinction of distance education into three generations, originally made by Garrison (1985) and Nipper (1989), is widely accepted.
The first generation began in the 19th century in the United States and Canada. It utilized postal correspondence to provide basic and vocational education to students, mainly adults, across the country, and was especially popular in remote areas. Thus, distance education was based on the use of regular mail to send books, duplicated notes and tests to students who then sent the tests back to be corrected.
Between 1950 and 1960, thanks to the birth of television, the so-called second generation systems were added to the traditional ones. Originally, they consisted of lessons recorded on video and audiotapes and later consisted of teaching software packages, CD-ROMs, other media storage formats, and e-mail.
In this period the first distance education universities were founded. The most widespread and well known is the British Open University established in 1969. It represents one of the most interesting model for adult training. It began by providing its training offers through both radio and television, supported by paper materials and by video and audiotapes. Later, it created study centers, the tutors-advisors networks, and self-learning groups. Today it represents the biggest university in the UK and this model has spread all over the world. Among the “open” universities there are the Spanish Universitat Oberta de Catalunya and the U.S. City University and United States Open University, which has gained a leading role in part-time education and in adult in-service training.
Today’s distance education, known as the third generation, is called e-learning (electronic learning) and makes use of network connections, by exploiting all the ICT (information & communication technology) resources. Garrison underlines the improvement in the relationship between teachers and students while Nipper emphasizes the revival of cooperative learning that has characterized adult education. According to Nipper, the implementation of network technologies alone is not enough to characterize distance learning as belonging to the third generation. It may be classified as the second generation if technology is considered as a means through which material is distributed to students.
Key Terms in this Chapter
E-Learning Platform: A software system designed to create a virtual learning environment through which it is possible to deliver training courses, administer and monitor them and access a series of facilities and arrangements.
Interactivity: Dynamic communication process that allows modification of a message on the basis of the choices made by the users. The message is related to previous messages and to the relationship between them. In a self-instructing course, interactivity depends on the interaction frequency, on the number of available options in each interaction and on the meaning of the interactions with respect to the course goals.
Asynchronous Learning: Learning process during which communication among participants occurs in deferred time.
Virtual Classroom: Learning environment where instructors and students are separated by time and space but can communicate through an e-learning platform or other management applications. In an online course, several virtual classes may occur that correspond to several collaborative groups or they can be subdivided into various groups.
Web-Based Training (WBT): Type of training delivered through the Internet offering the possibility of including training in real time through the web and with the assistance of e-tutors and instructors. It represents an evolution of the computer-based training (CBT).
Blended Learning: Teaching arrangement that combines components and methods of face-to-face settings with those of e-learning.
Courseware: Collection of teaching material in digital format delivered through software, multimedia and data transmission systems.
E-Learning: Computer-enhanced learning that offers the possibility of delivering training course contents electronically by the Internet or the Intranet networks. It is a very flexible solution because the user can personalize it and easily access it.
Synchronous Learning: Learning process during which communication among participants occurs simultaneously.
Computer-Based Training (CBT): Learning method in which the student learns by executing a software package on a computer. It refers to a self-instruction course where the student attends lessons on the computer, interacts with the software, answers questions and executes operations mainly through a CD-ROM or a floppy disk .