Distance learning is a new scheme or mode of transferring and acquiring learning or education through the use of modern technology between instructor and student who are separated by time and space. It can be between schools, between schools and colleges and universities, within school buildings and districts or between individuals (Burke, 2002).
Is earliest prototype was the international correspondence in the 19th century. In the 1970s, it reshaped into open universities, later into the 1980's wave of technological products, such as the videotape, broadcast, satellite and cable. In the 1990s, Brey (as qtd in Burke) predicted that distance education programs would phenomenally grow that decade to an extent that most of the people the U.S. would be served by it at the minimal ratio of 1:1, mostly in the community colleges. Right enough by 1994, 80% of community colleges in the U.S. began offering some form of distance education program and the figure went up further in the rest of the decade.
Today, distance education or learning refers to the use of audio, video and computer videoconferencing technologies as media of delivery. It encourages creativity, active participation in the learning process, an experience of others, and prepares them for appropriate involvement in the world they are about to enter (Burke). And these activities utilize multiple interactive media, such as sound and video, enhance active listening and focused attention and the capability to work independently (Schlosser et al., 1997 as qtd in Burke). Distance learning is meant to meet or enrich the educational goals of an institution and those of the students through appropriate policy, procedures and programming before a program is started. Instruction is delivered by computers in either synchronous or asynchronous mode. The synchronous mode is used when the instructor and learner participate at the same time. The asynchronous mode uses recorded instructional materials, such as broadcast or cable TV, video audio, and computer software, among others.
As the scope of distance learning broadens, institutions tend to use and develop more and more diversified recorded and live technologies (Burke). At the Community College of Maine in 1991, the school provided 40 courses to 3,655 students in more than 75 different locations. According to the school, the interactive TV system was their primary means of broadcasting courses, although computer conferencing, videodiscs, faxes, audio conferencing and e-mail were also being used.
The current use of technology as a form of instructional delivery requires the radical shift of standards of education in accommodating these new technologies and the change of focus from teacher-centered to learner-centered environment. Each program must, therefore, fulfill the distinct educational goals of an institution and the specific needs of the student. This, in turn, requires the adjustment and establishment of policy, procedures and specific programming features or elements before the program should be begun (Burke).
To many researchers and users, distance learning or distance education interchangeably refers to a divergence of programs, provides, audiences and media used to transmit information and instructions between teacher and learner in separate locations and/or time (Sherry, 1996). The transfer of knowledge is the initiative of the learner or student, rather than by the instructor, taking the form of a non-contiguous communication between them through the print and/or another technology.
Evolution - Its prototype, international correspondence schools, became the accepted mode in Europe when instructional radio and TV were popularized in the middle of the last century, although these schools were introduced earlier. TV production technology was mostly confined to studios and live broadcasts in the late 50s and early 60s (Cambre, 1991 as qtd in Sherry). It was in these studios that master teachers held widely-broadcast class sessions. But those teachers were not always suitable or attractive TV talents and the TV medium of the time was not exactly the best method for calling or holding the attention of audiences (Sherry). This drove the TV image to the level of unfitness and needing some form of enrichment and radical upgrading in order to become relevant to school work. The reputation was surprisingly reversed in the late 70s when professionally formatted TV series brought new subject matters to students not yet taught but proved to be important and complementary to the curriculum. The change was, however, short-lived and the electronic media of radio and TV were again backtracked because of the lack of a two-way communication channel between instructor and student. In time, interactive communications technologies became more and more sophisticated and available by evolving distance educators, who continuously experimented and developed newer technologies. Present-day and the most popular media are computer-based communications, including electronic mail or email, bulletin board systems (BBSs), and internet; telephone-based audio-conferencing; and video-conferencing with one-or-two-way video and two-way audio via broadcast, cable, telephone, fiber optics, satellite, microwave, closed-circuit or low-power TV (Sherry).
Regional Development - Interest in distance learning or education is now highest and greatest in areas where students or learners are most widely distributed. Every region develops its own type of distance education needs according to local characteristics and resources, target users and the type or features of the organizations that provide the instruction. Public and private institutions offer independent study programs to self-starters and supply them with course materials, printed materials through snail or post mails, with some form of teleconferencing or electronic network support and tutorial support via telephone or electronic mail (e-mail).
Distance Learning vs. Virtual or Traditional Education - Learning from a distance (or distance learning or distance education) occurs by automation. Automation is the distribution of digitized course materials through the internet and without the involvement of those who prepared the materials (Professional Career Development Institute). Present-day views hold that this mode is unavoidable and improves as well as increases much wider access to knowledge. Traditional (or classroom) educators, on the other hand, continue to be suspicious and nervous about this phenomenon, more so because of the reputation and achievements it has gathered in recent years. Classroom educators must also contend with the fact that more and more private businesses have been acquiring distance learning courses, such as Associate, Graduate, Masters and Doctoral degrees - a dark foreboding to these traditionalists that the strength of campus school may be drawn back or deteriorate.
Some of these traditionalists objected to distance learning because of the lack of personal interaction in the process of learning. They felt that the lack of support could lead to poor service delivery by online schools and destroy their credibility and reputation. But more and more distance learning organizations have been creating their own educational programs to fill varied student needs and improving or assuring service delivery. The shape of things to come, it appears, is that more and more degrees will be delivered and acquired through distance learning. Working adults and those with families who may want to pursue or further their education are into distance learning. They see themselves as both student and consumer of the product that suits their demand for convenience and flexibility (PCDI).
A recent survey was conducted to compare web or internet-based learning and classroom-based learning in measuring their opinions and experiences. No significant differences were found on interaction. Distance learners surveyed expressed more satisfaction with the responsiveness of the instructor than classroom learners. Sixty per cent (60%) said they found net forums gave them some benefit, 56% of whom said net forums helped in their assignments. Almost half (47%) expressed interest in another distance learning course and interaction with the web-based course materials was also more frequent than with classroom-based materials (PCDI).
Another recent survey was conducted on the pre-test and post-test scores, age, preferred learning styles, homework grades, research paper grades, final examination scores and final course grades of distance learners and classroom learners. There were significant differences in post-test scores, final exam scores and age, but not in pre-test scores, research, paper grades, homework grades, and final course grades. In considering pre-test and post tests, both groups' ratings were not too far apart. Overall finding was that distance education can be just as good as the traditional face-to-face classroom education. There were no remarkable differences between them in their homework grades, research paper grades, pre-test scores and final course grades. Distance education scored higher in final exam scores, post-test scores and age. The conclusion drawn was that one method is not superior to the other, which ultimately meant that distance education is not inferior to traditional and can, therefore, be an acceptable alternative for being just as good (PDIC).
Theories and Philosophies - These affect the manner of communication transfer of distance education and how the student perceives the uses the new knowledge. There are two opposing views on instructional designs, symbol-processing is more often used than the situated cognition alternative. Symbol processing is computer-based and is premised on a transmission of a fixed body of information. The teacher presents and translates an abstract idea into a concrete image to the learner through a medium and from there, the student or learner perceives, decodes or processes, and…