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Donald G. Perrin

When Marshall McLuhan introduced the concept of machines as “extensions of man” he elicited images of levers and mechanical extensions of our ability to do work. Few of us anticipated the expanded intellectual capabilities resulting from computers and information processing that led us into the information age. And only visionaries could anticipate that this technology would be available to everyone at a very low cost.

The computer is the universal tool. It can be a simulator, game machine, automated manufacturing device; or number cruncher. It can handle text, graphics, numbers, languages, and logic of increasing complexity. It can match and interpret graphics as individual as finger prints. It can read handwriting, turn voice into text, convert foreign languages into English, correct grammar and spelling, and perform complex mathematical equations in seconds that previously required years or decades. The computer is not the same as human intelligence, but it extends it with  processing at the speed of light and the ability to search, store, integrate, access, analyse, interpret, and disseminate all kinds of information.

In the history of technology, computers information systems have had a more profound effect on teaching and learning than anything since movable type and the industrial revolution. Technology can expand in two directions – mass communications, like films and television, and individual communications, as with telephone. At first, educational technologies were concerned with economy of scale so that film and broadcast media predominated. In the 1950s the transition to individualized media began to impact education – language labs, teaching machines and mainframe computers.

Personal computers revolutionized business and education in the final quarter of the century. Astounding improvement in the power-to-cost ratio and rapid growth of broadband networks set the stage for and unprecedented revolution in teaching and learning that has impacted both education and training. By the mid 1990s it was apparent that, during the next decade, not enough brick and mortar universities could be built to house the growing number of students, professors, and courses. This paved the way for explosive growth of online learning and virtual universities. Research in distance learning was focused on eLearning to meet the challenges of the new millennium.

Industry demonstrated tremendous financial savings from distance learning. Education gained its greatest benefit as a way to provide quality courses and programs to unserved and underserved populations.


This issue of the Journal focuses on research to optimize learning and turning theory into practice.

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January 2006 Index
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