a non-profit national educational accreditation agency in the United States specializing in the accreditation of distance education.
What is Distance Learning?
Distance education or online learning is a mode of delivering education and instruction, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional classroom setting. Distance learning provides access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both. Distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason, including taking examinations, have been referred to as hybrid or blended courses of study. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web or other network technologies, are a recent development in distance education.
Distance Learning in Secondary and Higher Education
The widespread use of computers and the internet have made distance learning easier and faster, and today virtual schools and virtual universities deliver full curricula online. Between 2000 and 2008, undergraduate enrollment in at least some distance programs became more and more common. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that the number of students in at least one distance education class expanded from 8 percent to 20 percent. Many private, public, non-profit and for-profit institutions worldwide now offer distance education courses from the most basic instruction through the highest levels of degree and doctoral programs. Levels of accreditation vary: Widely respected universities such as Stanford University and Harvard now deliver online courses—but other online schools receive little outside oversight, and some are actually fraudulent, i.e., diploma mills. In the US, the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) specialize in the accreditation of distance education institutions.
The majority of public and private colleges now offer full academic programs online. These include, but are not limited to, training programs in the mental health, occupational therapy, family therapy, art therapy, physical therapy, and rehabilitation counseling fields. Distance education has a long history, but its popularity and use has grown exponentially as more advanced technology has become available. By 2008, online learning programs were available in the United States in 44 states at the K-12 level.
Although the expansion of the Internet blurs the boundaries, distance education technologies are divided into two modes of delivery: synchronous learning and asynchronous learning. In synchronous learning, all participants are "present" at the same time. In this regard, it resembles traditional classroom teaching methods despite the participants being located remotely. It requires a timetable to be organized. Web conferencing, videoconferencing, educational television, instructional television are examples of synchronous technology, as are direct-broadcast satellite (DBS), internet radio, live streaming, telephone, and web-based voice over IP technology. Online meeting software such as Adobe Connect has helped to facilitate meetings in distance learning courses.
In asynchronous learning, participants access course materials flexibly on their own schedules. Students are not required to be together at the same time. Mail correspondence, which is the oldest form of distance education, is an asynchronous delivery technology, as are message board forums, e-mail, video and audio recordings, print materials, voice-mail, and fax. The two methods can be combined. Distance learning can also use interactive radio instruction (IRI), interactive audio instruction (IAI), online virtual worlds, digital games, webinars, and webcasts, all of which are referred to as eLearning.
The most obvious and profound impact of distance learning is that it can expand access to education and training for both general populace and businesses since its flexible scheduling structure lessens the effects of the many time-constraints imposed by personal responsibilities and commitments. Devolving some activities off-site alleviates institutional capacity constraints arising from the traditional demand on institutional buildings and infrastructure. Furthermore, there is the potential for increased access to more experts in the field and to other students from diverse geographical, social, cultural, economic, and experiential backgrounds. As the population at large becomes more involved in lifelong learning beyond the normal schooling age, institutions can benefit financially, and adult learning business courses may be particularly lucrative. Distance education programs can act as a catalyst for institutional innovation and are at least as effective as face-to-face learning programs,especially if the instructor who is teaching online is knowledgeable and skilled.
At the same time, distance learning can be a cost-effective approach to education. This approach can help students save a considerable amount financially by removing the cost of transportation. Distance learning can also help to lighten the economic burden of high-priced course textbooks. Many textbooks are now available as electronic textbooks, known as e-textbooks, which can offer digital textbooks for a reduced price in comparison to traditional textbooks. Also, the increasing improvements in technology have resulted in many school libraries having a partnership with digital publishers that offer course materials for free, which can help students significantly with educational costs.
Lastly, distance learning may enable students who are unable to attend a traditional school setting, due to disability or illness such as decreased mobility and immune system suppression, to get a good education. Distance education may provide equal access regardless of socioeconomic status or income, area of residence, gender, race, age, or cost per student. Applying universal design strategies to distance learning courses as they are being developed can increase the accessibility of such courses to students with a range of abilities, disabilities, learning styles, and native languages.
The benefits for distance learning may seem endless; however, while these benefits may outweigh the disadvantages for students in such a technology driven society, before indulging into e-learning a few disadvantages should be considered. Some say a negative to distance education is the lack of social interaction. If the classroom environment is what you love most about learning, you may want to take a step back and reconsider distance learning. Another downfall to e-learning is that the format is not ideal for everyone. Learning online and teaching online can be challenging. If you know you have problems with motivation, procrastination and that you may need a lot of individual attention from an instructor you may want to think long and hard before enrolling in an online learning program.