Distance Education is instructional delivery that does not constrain the student to be physically present in the same location as the instructor. Historically, Distance Education meant correspondence study. Today, audio, video, and computer technologies are more common delivery modes.
The term Distance Learning is often interchanged with Distance Education. However, this is inaccurate since institutions/instructors control educational delivery while the student is responsible for learning. In other words, Distance Learning is the result of Distance Education. Another term that has experienced some recent popularity is Distributed Education. This term may represent the trend to utilize a mix of delivery modes for optimal instruction and learning.
Distance Education Defining Elements
• The separation of teacher and learner during at least a majority of each instructional process.
• The use of educational media to unite teacher and learner and carry course content.
• The provision of two-way communication between teacher, tutor, or educational agency and learner (Verduin and Clark, 1991).
Distance Education Delivery Systems
There are two categories of distance education delivery systems, synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous instruction requires the simultaneous participation of all students and instructors. The advantage of synchronous instruction is that interaction is done in "real time." Forms of synchronous delivery include Interactive TV, audiographics, computerconferencing, IRC, and MOO.
Asynchronous instruction does not require the simultaneous participation of all students and instructors. Students do not need to be gathered together in the same location at the same time. Rather, students may choose their own instructional time frame and gather learning materials according to their schedules. Asynchronous instruction is more flexible than synchronous instruction. Moreover, in the case of telecommunications such as email, asynchronous instruction allows and even may encourage community development. Forms of asynchronous delivery include email, listservs, audiocassette courses, videotaped courses, correspondence courses, and WWW-based courses (though WWW will probably offer synchronous formats in the near future).
The advantages of asynchronous delivery include student choice of location and time, and (in the case of telecommunications such as email) interaction opportunities for all students. A disadvantage to consider with email-based interaction is the considerable written exchange, which could really pile up.
Some Distance Education Modes - Please see our glossary for definition of terms.
• Print Correspondence - The traditional method of distance education
• Instructional Television, Videotape
• Teleconferencing, Audio/Video Conferencing, and Computer Conferencing
• IRC, MOO and MUD
• Email and Listservs
Choosing A Distance Education Mode
When choosing a distance education mode, first ask what is your educational need or goal? You must look at each technology and think about how it might fit your teaching goals. If there are several courses, you must investigate how the technology might fit each course. Then, you must assess the characteristics and needs of the learning audience. Do not get bogged down by one technology. With the learning audience characteristics and needs in mind, try to use a variety of platforms to address those needs. For example, if your students have older computers and slower modems, you will not want to teach your course entirely by IRC, MOO, or WWW. You do not have to select the latest platform since even "low tech" options such as a phone and a fax can prove very effective. Investing in a variety of technologies should allow for increased adaptability as technologies improve.
Elements To Remember
While designing your distance education program, remember that there are three elements of paramount importance to any successful distance education program.
• instructional design
The Potential For Student Learning With Distance Education
The new electronic technologies such as CD-ROM interactive disks, computer bulletin boards, and multimedia hyper-text available over the global Internet using the World Wide Web, can provide students with far greater involvement in the process of learning. These interactive technologies also allow students the exercise of far greater control over that process than is possible in many traditional learning environments. "Integrated sound, motion, image, and text create a rich new learning environment awash with possibility and a clear potential to increase student involvement in the learning process." (Task Force on Distance Education, 1992).
Stephen Ehrmann of the Educational Strategies Program of the Annenberg/CPB Project at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting states the following: "At virtually every institution I visit, faculty members tell me excitedly that students are expressing themselves more and better when using e-mail. Students who say little in a classroom sometimes become rich contributors via e-mail, perhaps because they feel protected from the stares of others." (Ehrmann, S. C. 1995).
Research on delivery modes and their correlation to student achievement outcomes has shown that students learn better via teletraining mode than face-to-face instruction (Chute, Balthazar, Poston 1989; Task Force on Distance Education, 1992) One explanation for this phenomenon is that the students must take more responsibility for, and be more active in, their learning - whether that means attendance at a satellite downlink site, participation in a class listserv, or delving deeper into a WWW-based lesson.