As Rhoda (2005) notes, “advances in technology have transformed the way in which the academy offers its curricula” (p. 149). Further, the proliferation of advanced technologies for teaching and learning has been said to help provide better access, convenience, and flexibility as a way to support learners’ educational opportunities (Conceicao, 2006). Nowadays, simple physical separation between the teacher and learner is no longer an effective way of describing distance education. Scholars try to define distance education from every imaginable angle they can think of due to the nature of innovative technology.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Flexibility: The literal meaning of this word means the ability to adapt prearranged and prepared procedures to the circumstances. In distance education, learners are a heterogeneous group and possess different characteristics. Plus, these learners may have different learning styles. Most of distance-education learners are adult learners. According to the principles of andragogy, adult learners are normally self-directed learners. They are internally motivated learners. Their learning is usually contextual. However, this is not to say that instructors can only be learning facilitators. When adult learners are inexperienced with a subject matter, for example, computer science, instructors need to be knowledge dictators in order to help learners lay a solid foundation. When learners are self-directed, instructors can assume the role of learning facilitators.
Centralization: This refers to the process of concentrating authority and decision making in the center, or at the top of the hierarchy, of an organization. When this concept applies to teaching, it may mean that teachers make the curricula for the students. The teachers select instructional methods according to their own preferences. The teachers make a decision as to how much students need to learn from them and the curricula, and the evaluation method is normally formal. In some other cultures such as in China, centralization may mean that teachers teach to tests, expound on required textbooks. Teaching is characterized by the teacher-dominated mode of instruction.
Distance Learning: Distance learning (DL) is defined as learning via telecommunications. The term telecommunications embraces a wide variety of media configurations, including radio, telephone, television, and the Internet. The Greek root word “tele” means “at a distance” or “far off.” Heinich, Molenda, Russell, and Smaldino (2002) define distance education as a form of education characterized by the following:
Constructivism: This refers to the process whereby perceptual experience is constructed from, rather than being a direct response to the stimulus. This approach to teaching and learning is based on a combination of a subset of research within cognitive psychology and a subset of research within social psychology, just as behavior modification techniques are based on operant conditioning theory within behavioral psychology. The basic premise is that an individual learner must actively “build” knowledge and skills and that information exists within these built constructs rather than in the external environment.
Problem-Based Learning: Problem-based learning starts with a problem, or a query, that the learners wish to solve. It has been introduced into profession preparation, helping learners problem-solve actual practical cases in an attempt to overcome the theory-practice divide. This approach started originally in the medical world. Later it was introduced to law enforcement and other fields, including adult education and distance education. According to principles of adult learning, adult learners possess great readiness to learn, voluntarily enter an educational activity with a life-centered, task-centered, or problem-centered orientation to learning. Therefore, adult learning is contextual to some extent. Problem-based learning seems to be one of the best approaches that should be applied to adult learning. Since most of the learners are adult learners in distance education, this approach works best with distance education as well.
Andragogy: The term was first coined in 1833 in Europe by a German grammar teacher. It was first introduced to North America in the early 1970s by the father of adult education, Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997 AU8: The in-text citation "Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). Knowles defines the term as the art and science of helping adults. There are six principles attached to andragogy. Instructors of adults are supposed to be learning facilitators, linking students to learning resources. Students are not supposed to assume a submissive role of following their instructors. Learners are allowed to negotiate course contents and assignments with their instructors. Involving learners in the learning process is recommended in adult learning. Instructors are supposed to use informal evaluation to evaluate students’ work. Since Knowles emphasizes the helping role of instructors, teachers are supposed to be a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage. The principles of andragogy work best with distance education.
Decentralization: This refers to the process of moving from one larger center of activity, authority, and so forth, out into several smaller centers. When this concept applies to distance education, it may mean that teaching is student-centered. In other words, instruction via distance education may be syllabus based and content-centered. Instructors may assume the role of learning facilitators, linking students to learning resources. In some instances, students may determine as to what to learn, how to learn, and when to learn. Some instructors may allow students to negotiate assignments with them in order to increase students’ involvement and participation in the learning process. This concept is often applied in democratic countries. Educators in authoritarian countries may not like the idea of decentralization in teaching and learning.