The future of education in the new millenium
What is DL?
Why do we need DL?
Who needs DL?
How effective is DL?
Factors affecting expansion of DL
Conclusion / Summary
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What is DL?

Broadly defined, Distance Learning ("DL") or Distance Education ("DE") is any system by which individuals learn from a distance. DL permits individuals to learn, obtain credits and even earn degrees, from their home or other convenient location. DL makes use of mail correspondence, audio and videocassettes, radio, television, computer software, modems & computer bulletin board systems, and more recently the Internet.

At its most basic level, distance education takes place when a teacher and student(s) are separated by physical distance, and technology (i.e., voice, video, data, and print) often in concert with face-to-face communication, is used to bridge the instructional gap. These types of programs can provide adults with a second chance at a college education, reach those disadvantaged by limited time, distance or physical disability, and update the knowledge base of workers at their places of employment. (Willis, 1997)

The United States Distance Learning Association defines distance learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance. Distance learning is the application of technology of electronic means to education in all areas: K through 12, Higher Education, Continuing Education, Corporate Training, and Military and Government Training, telemedicine and those devoted to the pursuit of life long learning.
(United States Distance Learning Association, 1996)

The delivery of distance education systems is essentially divided into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous delivery requires the simultaneous participation of all students and instructors, and thus requires the use of newly developed technologies. It offers the advantage of real-time interaction through mediums like interactive television and computer teleconferencing.

Asynchronous delivery does not require all students and instructors to participate simultaneously. It does not require the use of the latest technology and its delivery method can be as archaic as mail correspondence courses. However, it offers the greatest flexibility for students and instructors with regard to location, scheduling and time allocations. The use of newly developed technologies and the Internet have broadened the viability and appeal of asynchronous delivery.

Telecommunications technologies that can integrate sound, motion, image, and text create a rich new learning environment awash with possibility and a clear potential to increase student involvement in the learning process.
(Task Force on Distance Education, 1992)

A study of 1,500 higher education U.S. institutions, conducted by National Center for Education Statistics ("NCES"), determined that these institutions were using the following DL technologies and delivery methods:

Distance education courses were delivered by two-way interactive video at 57 percent and by one-way prerecorded video at 52 percent of the institutions offering distance education courses in fall 1995. About a quarter of the institutions used two-way audio with one-way video and a quarter used computer-based technologies other than two-way online interactions during instruction (e.g., the Internet) to deliver their distance education courses. Institutions that offered distance education courses in fall 1995 frequently directed courses to students' homes (49 percent), other branches of their institution (39 percent), and other college campuses (35 percent). About a quarter of the institutions directed distance education courses to elementary/secondary schools, and 18 percent directed courses to work sites. (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997: 43)

Table 1. from "Distance Education in Higher Education Institutions".
(National Center for Education Statistics, 1997: 11)

However, of greater significance, is the fact that when these same institutions were asked what distance learning technologies they were pursuing in the next 3 years (i.e., 1996-1998), 79% indicated other computer based technologies (including the Internet) and 71% indicated two-way online (computer-based) interactions during instruction. The only other medium with as high a response rate was two way interactive video, which garnered a response of 79%. Clearly, computer-based delivery of DL courses is the future medium of choice.