The Advancement of Distance Education via Technology
Gaining a formal university, or college, qualification is the dream of many people. Unfortunately, with work and family commitments, not to mention the myriad of other things, it is not always an easy dream to achieve. With time being in high demand for most people attending campus is not an option. Fortunately just because you can’t attend campus doesn’t mean you need to give up your dream. In recent years advances in technology have brought distance education in line with on-campus learning.
Communication has always been the basis for any learning experience. Limitations in communication methods have always been a drawback for distance education, but with advances in technology it has revolutionised the way students work, study and learn. Email, discussion boards and instant messaging programs have provided vast improvements to distance education students. Instant communication is available for students with the use of free programs such as Skype, MSN, Yahoo Messenger and a numerous of others. This type of instant communication promoted debate and discussion between students and teachers that has previously been unheard of in distance education. Students can encounter abstract ideas as well as enabling evaluation of their progress against fellow students.
The internet has allowed access to resources that have previously only been available on university campuses or in well established and financed libraries. Free or reduced cost access to professional journals are now available via the internet. This has proved invaluable to distance education students who found it difficult and expensive to access these texts in the past. Mass media resources are also available online, giving student’s access to broadcasts and publications not normally available to the average student. By broadening the information intake of students it gives a greater capacity to examine different perspectives, ideas and beliefs. This allows the critical self to explore, review and learn. Websites relating to every imaginable topic are available on the internet, although validity must always be checked to ensure correct information.
Virtual reality has changed the learning experience of many distance education students. While nothing will ever replace the traditional classroom environment virtual reality has made it possible to experience that environment via virtual classrooms. Students can attend and participate in virtual classes where lecturers, tutors, teachers and other educators are present and reside over the class in much the same manner as they would a traditional classroom. Student participation is similar to that in a traditional classroom where students can be asked to build structures, explain theories or take part in general class discussion as well as a myriad of other tasks. By simulating the traditional learning environment it encourages participation and debate previously unheard of in distance education. It also allows for the interaction between students that has previously been missing from distance education, this enhances student support and has vastly increased retention rates.
The latest enhancement being introduced to distance education is the use of virtual worlds such as Second Life. Educational institutions are incorporating virtual campuses, classrooms, research facilities, libraries and other facilities, all in an easily accessible area on the internet. At present there are approximately sixty universities or other educational institutions that have a presence on Second Life, including Harvard University. According to research this has enhanced collaboration and communication in real time between participants as well as making it possible to conduct group research on products and concepts. This allows for resources and knowledge to be drawn from a range of people over a vast geographical location. In this regard distance education has greater freedom than traditional campus learning as geographic location and economic situation is not a factor in attending.
While traditional on campus learning will always be necessary and leading in most regards, technological advances have improved student interaction, access to resources and support, bringing it in line with on campus standards, and in some regards, giving greater freedom and resources than available on campus.
More by this Author
In the 1980’s Judy Sugden, from EEYAAS Cattery, embarked on a project to improve the markings on the mackerel ginger. As she did this she noticed markings on her cats similar to that of a tiger. An...