Historical perspective Essay

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The purpose of this report is to explore the issue of distance learning from various points of view. To start with, the report seeks to provide the definition of the term distance learning, along with its implication to the various participants. Further, the report also attempts to trace the historical background of distance learning, and how the concept has evolved over the years, together with an assessment of the various institutions of higher learning that have embraced this concept of education.

Distance education is believed to have been around for as long as 1728, and the various institutions of learning have been embracing it slowly by slowly. This is yet another area that has been addressed by this report. In addition, the use of technology for purposes of delivering distance education has also been evaluated, as well as the ensuing limitations during the testing or evaluation of distance learning. A remedy on the same has also been provided. We have a number of theories that impacts on distance education and these have also been explored by this report.

The issue of interconnectivity between an instructor and his/her students is very important to distance education. This issue has also bee assessed by this report. Finally, this report has endeavoured to determine the distance learning systems in the various levels of education, and how they impact on both the teacher and the student (s). Introduction Distance learning is a term used in reference to an education field whose main emphasis is on andragogy, pedagogy instructional and technology systems design (Moore & Kearsley 2005).

The sole objective of distance learning is to give access to off site students. As opposed to a physical attendance to the various courses, students and teachers instead opt to make use of advancement in technology, by way of exchanging electronic or even printed media. Alternatively, they may also decide to apply real time communication, such as online chatting. There are instances in literature whereby certain authors have sought to use distance learning and distance education as a substitute to each other (Moore & Kearsley 2005).

Distance learnings hallmark is having the learner or student and the teacher separated either in time or space. It is a desire of distance learning planners to have student control their learning process, as opposed to having the assigned distant instructor do this. This is in addition to non-contagious correspondents between a teacher and his student. Such a correspondence could be reconciled with either print, or another type of technology (Moore & Kearsley 2005). From this perspective then, this report seeks to explore the various issues that impacts on of distance learning.

In line with this, the definition of this term shall be given, along with the historical perspective of the issue at hand. It is also the intention of this report to assess the philosophies and theories that could be related to distance learning, in addition to their interpretation. There are quite a number of systems of technology that are used in the implementation of the distance learning concept, and these too, shall be assessed by this report. Finally, the limitations that may be associated with distance learning will also be explored, not to mention the benefits to both the users and the providers alike.

Distance learning subscribes to a few theories, and these are explored in this report, along with the various systems of distance education that may be found in the different educational levels. Historical perspective Distance education may be traced as early as 1728 when a Boston Gazette run an advertisement about a teacher who taught shorthand, and who was seeking to have his students receive the lessons for the course via correspondence. During the 1840s in Great Britain, Isaac Pitman, a teacher in shorthand, is believed to have taught this skill to his student via correspondence (Holmberg 2005).

Amongst the pioneer universities to offer degree courses by distance learning was the University of London in 1858, when they created an External programme (Holmberg 2005). In 1873, the city of Boston, Massachusetts founded a society whose goal was to enhance home studies. The University of Queensland, Australia, created a Correspondence Studies Department in 1911 (Holmberg 2005). Not to be left out, the University of South Africa (UNISA) started to offer education courses by correspondence in 1946 (Holmberg 2005). Extramural studies were started in 1960 in New Zealand, at the Massey University.

The Open University that was established in the UK in 1969 remains to-date the largest university to offer distance education. Fern Universitat was established in Hagen Germany in 1974. Over the years, there are a lot of related institutions that have been founded, a majority of whom have embraced the term open university. We have a lot of public, private, for-profit and non-profit institutions that are today offering degree programs and other courses via distance learning. With regard to the accreditation levels, these usually differ, based on such factors as location jurisdiction.

For instance, an institution could be termed as University at one jurisdiction, even without being first having received authorization or accreditation, often times by a countys national government. However, such a description may not apply in another jurisdiction. Even amongst the mainstream universities, there is a growing trend towards online education, up to the doctoral level (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007). In its history, distance learning may be said to have passed through five technology generations (Moore & Kearsley 2005).

These includes print, video/audio teleconferencing, video/audio broadcasting, e-learning, and webcasting, among others. Still, the radio has managed to maintain its position as a viable medium for the dissemination of distance education, and this is especially the case amongst the developing countries, thanks largely to the level of the masses that it manages to reach out to. In India for example, the FM Channel has gained immense popularity. The universities have thus opted to employ this medium of communication for purposes of education programmes broadcasting in a variety of areas.

Some of these areas include for instance rural development, science education, teacher education, creative writing, as well as agriculture programmes meant for the farmers. Nowadays, PDAs, mp3 players as well as Smart Phone are increasingly gaining immense popularity. So much so that a number of professors have gone ahead and allow their students to both watch and listen to a video of for example, a certain course in the form of a Podcast (Lever-Duffy & McDonald 2008). This has further led to a rise in the distribution medium for distance learning content.

Use of technology in the delivery of distance education There are two groups of technology that distance learning employs; asynchronous and synchronous. Synchronous technology refers to an online delivery mode in which all the various participants have to be present simultaneously. In this case, there emerges the need to organise a timetable beforehand, for this particular event. Videoconferencing, telephone and web conferencing are just but a few examples of the synchronous technology that we have today, and which is at times applied to distance learning.

On the other hand, asynchronous technology refers to an online delivery mode in which the various participants are able to access the materials of their courses at will that is on a schedule that is convenient to them (Lever-Duffy & McDonald 2008). As such, it is not a requirement that the students have to be together simultaneously. Audiocassette, Message Board Forums, Videocassete, E-mail and fax/Voice Mail are all examples of asynchronous technologies. Limitations of Evaluation and testing distance learning

For a long time now, distance learning has been faced with trouble in as far as testing is concerned. Test material delivery is an exercise that may be accomplished with relative ease. The manner in which this is done is such that a given student has the necessary material at their disposal, so that they are able to read these at their convenience. However, there arises a problem at a time when the distance learning students are needed to complete various tests and assignments (Berg 2002).

One observation that has been noted with online courses is that it is usually extremely difficult for say, an instructor to control the students from cheating in tests, quizzes or even the main examinations. This is because dues to the lack of the physical presence of a teacher to facilitate a physical monitoring exercise over the students. In the case of a classroom situation, it is quite possible for a teacher to not only monitor the activities of students during examination time, but also uphold visually a certain integrity level that is in line with the reputation of an institution in question.

In the case of distance education however, it becomes quite easy to have a student completely removed from a supervision exercise (Berg 2002). One way through which security to curb cheating by distance learning students may be effected is to ensure that all the final examinations get done at a location that is common to all students, to allow both professors and invigilators to directly supervise the students. The internet too, has come to the rescue of distance learning.

Today, we have quite a number of websites that provides exam packages and software that are secure, in a bid to assist professors to control and manage distance learning students in a more effective manner. Theories of distance learning According to the distance education theory as postulated by Desmond Keegan, it is necessary that the system of distance learning be able to recreate artificially the learning-teaching interaction, in addition, the system should also be in a position to re-integrate such an interaction with the instructional process.

The Iowa Model rests on this particular basis: providing a distance learner a traditional-like experience (that involves face-to-face instruction), through the use of intact classrooms as well as live. On the other hand, the Norwegian Model has been known to traditionally integrate distance teaching that is mediated with local teaching that is often times face-to-face. Holmberg (2005) has attempted to explain the various duties of a teacher to distance learners.

At a time when a teacher gets to meet with her students physically, thanks to an effective media choice, such a teacher ceases being a communicator of a fixed body of information (Holmberg 2005), and instead assumes the role of a learning facilitator. From this point onwards the process of learning take on as a form of knowledge building between on the one hand, the students and on the other hand, the teacher. Today, the systems of distance learning takes into account an elevated interactivity level between a student and his teacher.

This is also the case for the isolated or rural communities that could be separated from each other by for instance, several thousand miles. Distance learning systems The conventional approach to distance learning is that this is a form of education that is meant for the adult learners. However, it is important to appreciate that we also have institutions that have for a number of years now been actively involved in the provision of distance education to former high school students. Even then, we also have distance learning taking place at both the middle school and elementary levels.

In this case, distance learning makes use of modules that are meant to enrich the curriculum, in addition to telecommunications projects that are in place. When we explore the issue of distance learning in secondary schools, this form of education is normally financially assisted by either the federal or the local government. The aim of the program therefore is to identify and fulfil the needs that small school districts within the rural areas may be faced with (Merriam et al 2007).

It is also possible today for students from secondary schools to be enrolled in certain courses, so as to enable them attain the requirements of graduation for certain courses that may not be offered by their respective districts. There are those students that opt to enrol in foreign language, advanced placement or better still, vocational classes. There are also countless instances in which we have had gifted or talented students from high schools being chosen to enrol on distance classes, on the basis of their academic capacity and ability in as far as the execution of individual work is concerned.

What this means is that the management exercise of classrooms turns into a much easier task. On the negative side however, we may end up with students that are quite disenfranchised (Lever-Duffy & McDonald 2008), with the result that they may end up facing a problem of managing their time, in addition to lacking discipline. Technology may be regarded as a principle portion of distance learning, yet it is a requirement that any programme that has succeeded in this field, ought to lay more emphasis on students needs, as opposed to the actual technology.

In order for a system of distance learning to be considered successful, there is a need to ensure that interactivity takes place between on the one hand, the students and on the other hand, the teacher. In addition, interactivity is also required between the environment of learning and the students, as well as amongst the various students in a distance learning institution. Interactivity could assume various forms, and it is important to note here that video, audio as well as student-teacher interactions are not the only types of interactivity that could be applied to distance learning.

Interactivity on the part of the student, may very well symbolize the kind of connectivity distance learning students are able to share with their teacher, in addition to facilitators, aides, peers and also local teachers. In the absence of connectivity there is a probability that distance learning may disintegrate into the conventional independent study of course model (Lever-Duffy & McDonald 2008).

Bibliography Berg, G. A, 2002, Why distance learning? : higher education administrative practices. Greenwood Publishing Group, NY.Holmberg, B, 2005, The evolution, principles and practices of distance education. Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universitat Oldenburg. p. 13. Lever-Duffy, J. and Jean B. McDonald, J. B, 2008, Teaching and learning with technology. New York: Pearson Education, Inc. , Merriam, S, Caffarella, R. , and Baumgartner, L, 2007, Learning in Adulthood New York: Wiley. Moore, M, and Kearsley, G, G, 2005, Distance education: a systems view (Second Ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Taylor, J. C. The fifth generation of distance education, Chinese Journal of Open Education Research, Vol. 3 (2003): 25 27.

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