The term distance education is used to describe educational initiatives designed to compensate for and diminish distance in geography or distance in time. The introduction of technology to distance education has fundamentally changed the delivery, scope, expectations, and potential of distance education practices. Technology and electronic communications are becoming exponentially more embedded in every facet of daily life, including business, the professions, and education, a normalization which continues to facilitate and enhance distance education delivery. Ubiquitous advertisements for online courses and degree programs are a testament to an expanded audience and increasing enrollments. Components of e-learning first adopted by distance education have since been adopted by the traditional education community. So pervasive are the application of new information and communication technologies to education delivery that the terms distance education, e-learning, and blended learning have become conflated. It is important that the clear distinctions between them are understood. Distance education represents an environment where the student and the instructor are separated; blended learning is any combination of electronic media or tools that supplement but do not replace face-to-face learning; e-learning is the application of technology to an instructional module or lesson. The relationship between these approaches is dynamic and may further blur, but distinctions will always remain. Distance education programs are offered at all levels, including primary, secondary, higher, and professional education. The earliest antecedents of distance education at all levels are found worldwide in programs described most commonly as correspondence study, a print-dependent approach prolific in geographic areas where distance was a formidable obstacle to education. As each new technology over the last century became more commonly available, it was adopted by educational practitioners eager to improve communication and remove barriers between students and teachers.
Each developmental stage of technology incorporated elements of the old technology while pursuing new ones. Thus, early use of technology involved telephone, television, radio, audiotape, videotape, and primitive applications of computer-assisted learning to supplement print materials. The next iteration of distance education technologies, facilitating interactive conferencing capabilities included teleconferencing, audio teleconferencing, and audiographic communication. Rapid adoption of the Internet and electronic communication has supported enhanced interactivity for both independent and collaborative work, access to dynamic databases, and the ability for students to create as well as assimilate knowledge. The rapid and pervasive incorporation of technology into all levels of education has been to a significant degree led by those involved in distance education. Virtual universities have evolved worldwide to offer comprehensive degrees. Yet, the technological advances are a threat to those who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. As distance delivery programs have increasingly incorporated technology, the term distance education has been used to distinguish them from more traditional, nontechnology-based correspondence programs. As traditional resident higher education programs have adopted many of the technologies first introduced in distance education programs, the strong divisions between distance and resident programs have become increasingly blurred and have resulted in growing respect for distance education programs. In postsecondary education, technology-based distance education has gradually evolved into a profitable and attractive venture for corporations, creating strong competition for academic institutions. The involvement of the for-profit sector in the delivery of technical, professional, and academic degrees and certificates has, in turn, been a driving force in the renewed discussion of perennial higher education academic issues such as the nature of the learning and teaching experience; educational assessment; academic and professional accreditation; the delivery of student support services such as libraries, computing, and counseling services; and faculty issues such as promotion and tenure, workload, and compensation.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Asynchronous Distance Delivery: An anytime, anywhere experience where all participants work independently at times convenient to them and that include methods such as online discussion boards, email, and video programming, and the implicit absence of immediate interaction with the teacher or other students.
Web Conferencing: Communication that allows audio participation with simultaneous visual presentation through a Web browser.
Audioteleconferencing: Voice-only communication via ordinary phone lines. Audio systems include telephone conference calls as well as more sophisticated systems that connect multiple locations.
Blended Learning: A distinct design methodology that integrates face-to-face and online learning experiences, resulting in an enhanced experience that exceeds more than either approach can provide separately. a distinct design methodology
Synchronous Distance Delivery: Requires that all involved - students, teachers, and facilitators - be connected and participating at the same time with the ability to interact and to transmit messages and responses simultaneously
Teleconferencing: Communication that allows participants to hear and see each other at multiple remote locations.
Virtual Universities: Institutions that exclusively offer distance courses and programs, often on a global scale.
Audiographic Communication: A multimedia approach with simultaneous resources for listening, viewing, and interacting with materials.