The origins of distance learning (DL), as an alternative way of learning, can be traced back to the 19th century (Rumble, 1988) although it was only with the foundation of the Open University (1969 United Kingdom) that it won its reputation, not only as an alternative way of learning with its individual pedagogic and didactic model, but also as an academic discipline (Holmberg 1989). Since then, and although DL has developed in many ways, according to the different geographical, political, and social circumstances (Moore & Anderson, 2003), it converged into a common ground of practices, concepts, and theories that are widely accepted as its field of practice and theory.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Telecommunications: This can be defined as “is any process that enables one or more users to pass to one or more other users information of any nature delivered in any usable form, by wire, radio, visual, or other electrical, electromagnetic, optical means” (Telecom Dictionary, 2006).
Synchronous and Asynchronous Distance Learning: Synchronous distance learning typically uses some type of broadcast instructional medium such as video teleconferencing, teletraining, or satellite. It is instructor-led and requires that trainees gather at a specific place, at a specific time, and for a specific time period to receive training (US Department of Education).
Horizontal Market Software: A horizontal market is one that supplies goods to a variety of industries instead of just one. Therefore, horizontal market software is software that can be used by several different types of industries. For example, word processing and spreadsheet programs are horizontal market applications because they can be used by many types of businesses and consumers. A business owner might use word processing software to type memos to his employees, while a student might use the same program to write a paper for a class. Software developers that create programs for horizontal markets typically have a broad audience, but also face high levels of competition. The opposite of horizontal market software is vertical market software, which is only developed for a specific industry. (Telecom Dictionary, 2006)
Distance Education: Distance education is defined (…) as a formal educational process in which the majority of the instruction occurs when student and instructor are not in the same place. Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous. Distance education may employ correspondence study, or audio, video, or computer technologies (Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, 1998).
Asynchronous Distance Learning: Uses a variety of instructional mediums. The mediums can range from the less sophisticated such as written materials, video tapes, and audio tapes, to the more sophisticated such as computer based training and interactive multimedia (U.S. Department of Education).
Vertical Market Software: A vertical market is one that supplies goods to a specific industry. For example, a MIDI keyboard manufacturer develops products for a vertical market since the keyboards are only used by people who want to create music on their computers. Vertical market software, therefore, is software developed for niche applications or for a specific clientele. For example, investment, real estate, and banking programs are all vertical market software applications because they are only used by a specific group of people. Scientific analysis programs, screenplay writing programs, and programs used by medical professionals are also vertical market software because they cater to a specific audience. There is typically not a lot of competition in vertical markets, but it can still be a risky industry since developers are highly dependent on specific clients to buy their products. The opposite of vertical market software is horizontal market software, which is developed for the general public or multiple industries. (Sharpened Computer Glossary, 2006)
Distance Learning Industrialisation: The structure of distance teaching is determined to a considerable degree by the principles of industrialisation, in particular by those of rationalisation, division of labour and mass production. The teaching process is gradually re-structured through increasing mechanisation and automation. (Peters, 1983, p. 110)
Economies of Scale in Distance Learning: Those planning a distance education system in the hope that they will reap economies of scale must ensure that: • The variable cost per student is less than that found in conventional systems operating at a similar education level; • The number of students S is large enough to bring down the average cost per student to a level where it is lower than the average cost found in conventional educational systems. The average cost per student (AC) is found by using the formula: AC=(Cµ + F)/S+ [pi]; • Drop out rate is kept at a reasonably low level; • The number of courses or volume of materials C does not grow so large as to increase the value of (Cµ + F) to a level where it becomes difficult, given the likely volume of students (S), for the average cost per student (AC) down to a level that is “competitive” with the average cost per student in conventional educational systems. (Rumble 1998)