Reliable and ubiquitous technology enables distance educators to focus on communication and learning. Myths and concerns about inferiority of distance learning have been disproven and dispelled. The relationship between on-campus and distance learning programs is blurred as faculties adopt internet and tools initially developed for distance learning for their on-campus classes. Concerns about quality, academic standards, and lack of face-to-face communication are giving way to enthusiasm for the influx of mid- career professionals that enrich distance learning classes and programs. There is also a global dimension that provides cultural richness and higher benchmarks for quality.
Interactive multimedia and learning management systems transform the distance learning landscape. Instructors focus on course development, tutorials and dialog rather than lecture and “covering curriculum”. Students fit learning into their life space so that professional and family activities are not compromised by the desire for continuing education. Flexibility does not compromise quality, and emphasis is on customization rather than regimentation.
Many constructs of traditional education are irrelevant with distance learning. This is especially true of management devices such as fixed curriculum, fixed schedules, and fixed deadlines for assignments. Punitive and militaristic devices to “motivate” or “manage” student behavior are replaced by assigning to each student responsibility for his or her learning.
Similarly, it is no longer necessary to proliferate courses to meet a spectrum of needs, subject matters, and academic levels; it is possible to customize courses, course modules, and learning objects to meet the needs of each individual student. A combination of technologies make this possible including advanced assessment tools, criterion referenced objectives, rubrics, interactive multimedia, and learning management systems.
Course materials can be continuously updated based on feedback from instructors and learners resulting in continuous quality improvement. It is no longer necessary to wait for the new edition of an expensive textbook because content is delivered inexpensively on the web. For the moment, this is not yet a threat to the publishing industry because so many distance learning courses are textbook based. Also, publishers have introduced substantial CD and web components to facilitate adaptation to the needs of different teachers and learners.
The dichotomy between classroom and distance learning has given way to blended learning where the distance component can vary from 0 to 100% based on learning objectives, subject matter, learner needs, and logistics of delivery including proximity to education institutions and ability to fit their schedules.
With the coming of age of distance learning, academia can redirect its attention to mission, relevance, and competing in a global learning economy. There will always be traditional on-campus programs for those who can attend, and explosive growth will continue in quality learning opportunities through distance education. Global access to computers and the internet, a ubiquitous interface, and widespread acceptance by education stake holders at all levels ensure make distance learning the focus of innovations in teaching and learning.
|August 2006 Index|