The essence of distance education is the physical separation of teacher and learner (Sauve, 1993). In many countries, universities are increasingly employing distance education. Some institutions are incorporating distance education as a way to extend the classroom by employing delivery mechanisms that replicate the presentation of material in a manner similar to face-toface communication. Other institutions are investigating new delivery mechanisms that support a revised perspective on education. These latter institutions are revising their processes for interacting with students and taking a more customer-centered approach to the delivery of education. There are many options available to universities when deciding how to employ technology to support delivery of distance education.
As the use of technology to support distance education increases, so does research into various aspects involved in the relationship between technology and the various forms of delivery of course material. The data in Table 1 presents examples of selected research projects involving investigations into technology and delivery mechanisms. The data in the table suggests the emergence of two major themes. First, it is incumbent upon institutions to consider students more like customers. This means that student demographics should be studied when considering modifications to delivery mechanisms. Thus, a specific type of individual (non-traditional, self-motivated, and mature) is more inclined to satisfactorily perform academically in a distance education situation. Second, the adoption of an asynchronous mode of delivery, found to be satisfactory in some research situations, represents an innovative use of technology. This, in turn, leads to the use of a delivery mechanism that supports learning that is independent of both time and place. The issue of time and place independence is discussed further in the following section.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Information Technology: Computer-based methods for processing data into a useable form for users.
Spatial: Of or concerning space.
Delivery Mechanisms: Processes for delivering course material.
Interactive Delivery Mode: Interaction between student and instructor in a synchronous mode.
Temporal: Of or relating to time.
Distance Education: Physical separation of teacher and learner.
Asynchronous Delivery Mode: Material to be delivered is made available by the instructor through technology and students are able to access the material based upon their own schedules.