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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Site contents and design by Eric LeBlanc, Copyright 1997, 2002

Why do we need DL?

What thoughts first come to mind when someone says the words, "school", "university" or "education". Do you conjure up visions of buildings, auditoriums, classrooms, labs, and numerous students milling about? If you were asked to "word associate" the same terms with regard to your future vision of education in ten or fifteen years, would your answers differ significantly? Probably not… but a number of societal demands and emerging technologies are converging to change the future delivery of education.

In fact, the seeds of change for twenty-first-century education were sown in the years after World War II and have been germinating slowly for fifty years. The first blooms of the diverse educational landscape of the future are just beginning to be seen.
(Cyrs, 1997: 7)

Demands - Population Growth and Technology
The additional demands on education are numerous. World population is soaring at an exponential rate. The human population will double by the middle of the next century (Erlich, 1997). Rising school enrollments could cripple our nation's education system. Technology, too, is expanding at an ever burgeoning pace. As the world, and developed nations in particular, shift from the industrial to the technological revolution, new educational delivery systems must be developed and implemented to keep pace with the increasing number of education consumers and the onslaught of technological innovations. Imagine the need for an educated and trained work force in a world with an additional 5 billion people… in less than 50 years!

The Learning Society
Unfortunately, the current system for educational delivery (based on the existence of a campus, classroom, and time constraints) has been in place for several hundred years, and this model was greatly expanded after World War II. The great expansion of public higher education in the United States was a result of the baby boom of the late '40's and '50's and the return of veterans using the G.I. Bill. Hundreds of new educational facilities were constructed or expanded by planners using the "campus based" model of the time. The idea of life-long learning was not considered. At the time, the majority of students attending college were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. The fact that sky-rocketing technological growth would require the lifelong education or retraining of an aging workforce, with ever decreasing mortality rates, was not considered. The notion that one individual might have two or three different "careers" within their lifetime was not conceived. This concept of lifelong education and an ever "learning society" was first put forth by UNESCO's International Commission on the Development of Education:

"If all that has to be learned must be continually re-invented and renewed, then teaching becomes education and, more and more, learning. If learning involves all of one's life, in the sense of both time-span and diversity, and all of society, including its social and economic as well as its educational resources, then we must go even further than the necessary overhaul of 'educational systems' until we reach the stage of a learning society." (Evans, 1996: 174)

Figure 1. Graph from "Paul Erlich and The
Population Bomb." (Erlich, 1997)

In industrialized countries, participation in education until the age of 16 is now universally accepted and the participation rate is at or approaching 100%. In addition, participation in post-secondary education has seen a dramatic increase in demand:

Sampling of participation in post-secondary education
20 to 24 year old age group - by percentage
Base Year - 1960
United States

Table 2 . Data Source: Opening education / policies and practices
from open and distance education. (Evans, 1996: 172)

Once again, the problem of increased demand combined with increased population is evident. The infrastructure necessary to accommodate the growing number of young and old education consumers does not exist… and the pressure is on to find innovative and cost-effective solutions. The alternative is more restrictive access to education, essentially cutting off a segment of the world's populous.

Why is there so much interest in distance education? There are many reasons, both sociological and economic. First, the rapidly growing world population is putting a greater strain on educational resources and encouraging both individuals and governments to find new methods of providing education to greater numbers. That growing population is increasingly mobile. People no longer accept the inevitability of following the same path as their parents. They are interested in learning new skills, new abilities, perhaps following a new career. Long seen as available only to the elite, education is now being demanded by more and more people. At the same time, the economic situation of many people often makes it difficult or impossible for them to attend a college or university. Distance education comes more conveniently to them. (Mood, 1995: 141)