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The Changing Environment for Education

Donald G. Perrin

For the first half of the 20th century, educational media were expensive; especially 16mm motion films and projectors. Prints were expensive - almost one hundred dollars for ten minutes of color film - and equipment was shared between many classrooms. Audiovisual media were designed group use - one-way communication one-to-many. Based on research conducted during World War II, audiovisual media were most effective when a teacher (or trainer) set the stage, introduced the presentation, and followed up with questions, discussion and summary.

The second half of the century saw a change from mechanical devices and photographic media to electronic and digital media. Over time, equipment was miniaturized, powerful, and low in cost. Lesson materials were designed for small groups and individuals. Technologies became interactive and, based on student feedback, could adapt to the individual learn needs. Language labs, teaching machines, and computers could customize learning and provide text, audio and/or visual feedback

Advent of the personal computer in the late 70s, public Internet in the 80s, and graphic user interface and world-wide web in the early 90s provided interactive learning with a full range of presentation and feedback options text, graphics, pictures, animations, motion images, sound, and the ability to simulate a wide range of mechanical and electronic devices. Ease of use, miniaturization, reduced cost, increase in power and memory, and superior graphics and video have stimulated adoption for home and business.

In the 21st century, networked computers with digital displays integrate the functions of all group and individual media. Local networks and the Internet have opened a treasure trove of learning resources. Simulation and motion sensitive devices have become commonplace for gaming and for instruction. Mobile devices now integrate telephone and video-phone with the power and memory of a PC and access to global networks. They have made learning mobile so that students and professors can connect from almost anywhere to anywhere and at any time. The success of these devices have transformed them into social media loke facebook that are used widely by all age levels.

Each new innovation extends opportunities for research, study, communication, interaction, sharing and problem-solving and support learning. Learning Management Systems integrate dissemination and feedback and automate routine administrative tasks for education providers. To use these technologies effectively, traditional institutions of higher education need to reassess educational policies and procedures that constrain learning. For example, in dealing with adult learners:

1.  Does a student need to be present at a particular place and time for advisement, registration, instruction, evaluation, and graduation? Or can it be accomplished on the web 24 X 7?

2.  Can we provide flexibility for students to customize degree and certificate curriculum and programs according to their individual needs?

3.  Is it necessary for a class to be scheduled with specific start and end dates based on a semester or quarter system? Or can classes be offered demand and with more flexible time frames?

4.  Can we provide flexibility for students to manage their learning schedules to fit with family and professional schedules, business and personal travel, and crises in health, family, and job?

5.  Is it important to have all student fit predetermined deadlines? Is it appropriate to punish a student for failing to meet a deadline? To what extent can time and date be flexible to meet individual student needs?

The increasing complexity of everyday life makes it necessary to education to adapt to the changing environment. Education as we know it constrains participation and impedes graduation for many because of their geographic location and demands of family, job, and health. To attend on-campus classes and learn face-to-face from the instructor is less and less possible.

Institutions that complement on-campus with distance learning programs have increasing enrollments. In the process they discover a new challenge to compete in the national and international arena with high quality educational programs that are on-campus, distant, and hybrid. Tony Bates has indicated that the cost of constructing and maintaining a brick-and-mortar campus is pushing fund-raising, endowments, and student tuition to unsustainable levels. The current economic climate makes the need for change more urgent.

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