Distance learning is a term that describes instructional systems which allow learners to participate in learning activities from locations other than that of the instructor or other learners. While the term was first used to describe print based courses (also known as correspondence courses), today the term is used as a synonym for online learning. Today, many instructional technologists perfer the term distributed learning over distance learning since the same learning activites work regardless of the physical distance between learniners and instructors. Many distance learning courses are combined with classroom-based learning activites. Such courses are typically refered to as hybrid or blended learning experiences. Distance learning is used from everything from high-schools to continuing education, to getting a doctorate degree online from an accredited university.
Useful Distance Learning Websites
History of Distance Learning
The first distance learning is credited to Isaac Pitman, who taught shorthand in Great Britain via correspondence in the 1840s. The University of London was the first university to offer distance learning degrees, establishing its External Programme in 1858. Another pioneering institution was the University of South Africa, which has been offering Correspondence Education courses since 1946. The largest distance education university in the United Kingdom is the Open University founded 1969. In Germany the FernUniversität in Hagen was founded 1974. In the twentieth century, radio, television, and the Internet have all been used to further distance education.
Distance learning programs originated in nineteenth-century and were conducted through regular mail. Today's distance learning courses tend to be predominantly web-based, taking advantage of discussion forums, video conferencing, and document via wired and wireless mobile learning devices. Currently, just about every major public and private university, and corproate and government training institutions offer distance learning programs. Levels of quality of distance learning vary greatly depending on the sponsoring institution.
MethodsIn Distance Education, students may not be required to be present in a classroom, but that also may be a question of option. As for an electronic classroom or Virtual Learning Environment, it may or not be a part of a distance education set up. Electronic classrooms can be both on campus, and off campus. We would call such institutions as using a 'flexible' delivery mode.
Distance Education may also use all forms of instructional technology, from print to the computer. This range will include radio, television, audio video conferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/on-line learning et al. (E-learning/online-learning are largely synonymous). A distinction is also made between open learning and distance learning. To clarify our thinking we can say that 'open' education is the system in which the student is free to choose the time and place, but distance education is a teaching methodology used when the student and teacher are separated by time and place. Thus it follows that not all open-learning institutions use distance education and not all organizations that use distance education are open learning institutions. Indeed there are many cases in which students are in traditional classrooms, connected via a video-conferencing link to a teacher in a distant classroom. This method is typical in geographically dispersed institutions. Conversely, the term virtual university is sometimes used to describe an open-learning institution that uses the Internet to create an imaginary university environment, in which the students, faculty, and staff can communicate and share information at any time, regardless of location.
Distance Education has traversed four to five 'generations' of technology in its history. These are print, audio/video broadcasting, audio/video teleconferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/ online-learning, computer broadcasting/webcasting etc. Yet the radio remains a very viable form, especially in the developing nations, because of its reach. In India the FM Channel is very popular and is being used by universities, to broadcast educational programs of variety on areas such as teacher education, rural development, programs in agriculture for farmers, science education, creative writing, mass communication, in addition to traditional courses in liberal arts, science and business administration. The increasing popularity of the iPod, PDAs and Smart Phone has provided an additional medium for the distribution of distance education content, and some professors now allow students to listen or even watch video of a course as a Podcast . Some colleges have been working with the U.S. military to distribute entire course content on a PDA to deployed personnel. 
Some educational institutions are integrating distance and on-campus students in college courses. Some courses allow distance students to watch on-campus class meetings live via online streaming video, and display real-time comments from distance students on an online chat board displayed during the lecture, making it possible for real-time discussion between on and off-campus students. In at least one instance, an online course has been run entirely in a 3D virtual world through the popular online community Second Life . This approach has also been used in conjunction with on-campus class meetings, making the separation between distance and on-campus students increasingly insignificant.
In short then, though a range of technology presupposes a distance education 'inventory' it is technological appropriateness and connectivity, such as computer, or for that matter electrical connectivity that should be considered, when we think of the world as a whole, while fitting in technological applications to distance education.
Full time or part-time study is possible, but most students choose part-time study. Research study is possible as well. Distance education is offered at all levels, but is most frequently an option for university-level studies. A form of educational program which is similar to this but which requires some amount of presence during the year is a low-residency program.
Testing and evaluationDistance learning has had trouble since its conception with the testing of material. The delivery is fairly straightforward, which makes sure it is available to the student and he or she can read it at their leisure. The problem arises when the student is required to complete assignments and testing. Whether quizzes, tests, or examinations; Online courses have had difficulty controlling cheating because of the lack of teacher control. In a classroom situation the teacher can monitor students and visually uphold a level of integrity consistent with the institutions reputation. With distance education the student can be removed from supervision completely. Some schools, such the University of Maryland University College, address integrity issues concerning testing by requiring students to take examinations in a proctored setting.
Assignments have adapted by becoming larger, longer, and more thorough so as to test for knowledge by forcing the student to research the subject and prove they have done the work. Quizzes are a popular form of testing knowledge and many courses go by the honor system regarding cheating. Even if the student is checking questions in the textbook or online, there may be an enforced time limit or the quiz may be worth so little in the overall mark that it becomes inconsequential. Exams and bigger tests are harder to regulate. Obviously the mark-oriented students cannot be trusted with their own marks. In smaller tests a professor may employ another computer program to keep all other programs from running on the computer reducing the possibility of help from the Internet.
Used in combination with invigilators, a pre-arranged supervisor trusted with over-looking big tests and examinations may be used to increase security. Many Midterms and Final examinations are held at a common location so that professors can supervise directly. Many of these examinations are still on the computer in which case the same program blocking software can be used. When the Internet became a popular medium for distance education many websites were founded offering secure exam software and packages to help professors manage their students more effectively.
1. Moore, Michael G.; Greg Kearsley (2005). Distance Education: A Systems View, Second, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-50688-7.
© 2011 Richard Culatta