Distance education and online learning

What is the big idea?

What is distance education? Not all education systems employ the conventional classroom approach. You may have come across correspondence courses or online learning programs. These and similar education systems where the learner and the educator is not in a traditional classroom environment are called distance learning systems. The student and teacher may be miles apart from each other. They may be in different states or countries, and connect and correspond through the internet or through the mail. There are several kinds of distance learning programs. In some programs, the course contents and study material are sent to the student via mail, who returns assignments and work back to the teacher the same way. In other programs, the teaching is done online, and the medium is video conferences and online discussion forums. Video and audio lectures are also used. Apart from such programs, there are also online tutors and students can also get homework help or assignment service online.

Evolution of the whole idea

When and where did this whole thing start? It might seem like a very modern idea, but it isn’t. Distance learning has been around for quite some time now. It was there much before we had speedy internet connections and convenient methods of communication, like email, chat and video conferencing.
It all started sometime around the mid-nineteenth century. No one can say for sure which program was the first distance learning program in history, but we do know some pioneers. One of them was Sir Isaac Pitman from Bath, England, who taught a shorthand writing course. He used to send his students transcribed text to learn from. His students submitted transcribed text beck to him to correct and review. The correspondence was done via post

What goes in favor of distance education?

So what are the advantages of such programs? First of all, students who live in remote areas who cannot commute to educational institutions have a way of receiving education. The learning hours are quite flexible in most distance learning programs, so those who are busy and cannot adjust their schedule according to the timetables of traditional educational institutions benefit. Students can decide when to study and for how long, so it is something that has made learning possible for people with jobs, household responsibilities, and other commitments. Another thing that distance education does is to do away with the cost of maintaining a building to house classrooms and this makes distance learning more economical.

What goes against it?

What goes against distance learning?  What it does not have that a conventional classroom has, is face-to-face interaction with the teachers, and tutors and fellow students. This is something that cannot be compensated with online discussion forums and video conferences, indubitably. A lot of things require much more interaction than these mediums can provide. Also, there is the problem that if the program is online, a bad internet connection means that the students cannot take classes or communicate with their peers and teachers. Another thing which distance education cannot provide is the infrastructure required for some academic programs, like laboratories. This is why many science programs cannot be taught through distance education.

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