This article describes research undertaken at the Scholarly Communications Lab of the College of Information and Computer Science at Long Island University in the area of higher education e-learning market in the United States. It is organized around three topics: a definition of e-learning and distance education; a description of the size, growth, and future outlook for this market; and the identification of some of the key growth drivers both historically and for the future.
According to Western Governors University (USA), distance learning and e-learning is simply:
Education that takes place when the instructor and student are separated by space and/or time. The gap between the two can be bridged through the use of technology—audio tapes, videoconferencing, satellite broadcasts and online technology, just to name a few—and/or more traditional delivery methods, such as the postal service. (WGU, 2004)
As communications and computer technology evolve, the definition of distance learning continues to develop. Asynchronous or time-delayed computer conferencing has given institutions the capability to network groups of learners over a period of time, allowing students in distance learning programs to be taught in groups rather than as individuals (Gunawardena & McIsaac, 2003).
Distance learning, before it evolved into primarily e-learning, has been around for a long period of time. It began in the second half of the 19th century with the exchange of print materials, assignments, and feedback by mail. Over the course of the 20th century, the development of radio and television made the delivery of additional materials (lectures and demonstrations) by electronic means possible. The 1950s saw the growth of a number of video projects that sought to identify expert science, math, and language teachers who could spread their expertise to students across a region or across the whole country. In 1989, Congress enacted the Star Schools legislation, intended to deliver quality instruction to largely rural or underserved areas. Among the Star School projects were three courses designed for adult learners, two of which used a studio teacher providing regular classes on topics ranging from job-seeking skills to skill-building needed to qualify for the GED. (www.ed.gov/prog_info/StarSchools/).Top
Currently Changing Developments
More recent technologies have expanded the number of communication channels available to distant educators. E-mail and computer conferencing began in the early 1970s as part of the government sponsored ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) (Harasim, Hiltz, Teles, & Turoff, 1995). Although scientific work groups quickly adopted these communicative tools to advance collaborative activity at a distance, they were not available to educators and off-campus students for another decade. In education, these tools could permit learners to exchange and debate ideas. But only in recent years have educators recognized the potential of these tools to support a different model of distance education, a model built on more constructivist principles of learning. Over the 20th century, the technological possibilities have changed, although the pedagogical model has not (Tolmie & Boyle, 2000). Most distance courses that use the modern information handling technologies are still built on a transmission model in which instructors create material to be consumed by learners, and learners are given exercises and tests that they submit to the instructor demonstrating their mastery of the material; that they understand it, remember it, and can apply this knowledge in testing situations (Askov, 2003).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Web-Based Training: Also referred to as “online courses” or “Web-based instruction,” a form of learning in which the training material is contained on Web pages on the Internet or an intranet.
Distance Education: The process of extending learning, or delivering instructional resource-sharing opportunities, to locations away from a classroom, building or site, to another classroom, building or site by using video, audio, computer, multimedia communications, or some combination of these with other traditional delivery methods.
E-Learning: Learning using electronic means: the acquisition of knowledge and skill using electronic technologies such as computer- and Internet-based courseware and local and wide area networks.
Collaborative Learning Online: Technologies that link together people in several locations so that they can interact with one another.
Computer-Based Learning: Refers to the use of computers as a key component of the educational environment. Broadly refers to a structured environment in which computers are used for teaching purposes.
Distance Learning: Courses in home: education for students working at home, with little or no face-to-face contact with teachers and with material provided remotely, for example, by e-mail, television, or correspondence.
Online Learning: Learning via educational material that is presented on a computer via an intranet or the Internet.
Higher Education: Education provided by universities, vocational universities and other collegial institutions that award academic degrees.