Distance learning has been around for a long time in the form of correspondence, in which assignments were completed without supervision and submitted to an instructor via mail. Most courses were quite basic and did not allow for much, if any, teacher-student or student-teacher interaction. The introduction of the Internet, however, changed this model for delivering and submitting educational content. Computers allow more complicated information, more engaging instructional materials. This eventually results in meaningful online interaction between and among teachers and students. With the help of various technology advances, distance learning has been increasingly popular and become an important part of college education. Prior to the Internet era, distance learning could not have had the effectiveness it has today. Technology, especially technology used in distance learning, has become fundamental and beneficial in the sense that it has opened more options for people to have a college education.
During the last few decades, the education landscape has changed profoundly. In the United States, formal education fifty years ago was basically the province of a privileged few in the society. However, as the American economy has changed from an agrarian mode, then to the industrial mode, through the information age, and now in the telecommunication age, formal education, which includes exposure to the liberal arts and technology, has become essential for the economic success of individuals, organizations, and countries. The undergraduate student population three decades ago was basically single, residential, full-time, and 18-23 years old. As we enter the telecommunication age, with its vastly expanded employment skill sets, the undergraduate student population has changed to include older (Beller and Or, 1998), married, employed, and non-residential students. For example, the rise of “full time part time students” is a phenomenon of recent years, where school leavers take part-time jobs while attending university, leaving less time for evening tutorials or weekend study. In addition, there is a drive for what is known as lifelong learning, whereby adults are increasingly returning to institutions of higher education to take supplementary courses whilst in full-time employment, or during short career breaks. Another factor that contributes to a larger variety of students is that the American work force must also continuously be retrained as a result of technological changes. Furthermore, employees now must manage their own careers as new skill sets are required and companies demonstrate less loyalty to their employees. The increased competition for students is also influential. Universities are banding together to form consortiums to offer additional degrees and flexibility in course offerings. The changing demographics of students, new required skill sets, and new educational competitors are driving the adoption of new educational delivery systems that bridge the time-place gap that traditional courses have created. Interactive distance learning and world wide access of educational instruction through Internet services offer non-residential education services which may be more compatible with student lifestyles and needs. As a result, distance learning has become necessary for a large number of students. It was born to serve the purpose of providing education to a larger variety of students, students who cannot afford the time and money to go to a regular classroom lecture but nevertheless deserve to have college education. With the rise of the Internet and the many communication tools it offers, distance learning has taken a huge step and increasingly provide these people an access to education that they can never have otherwise. As long as the students have the right to choose whether or not they want to take a course online, distance learning has not changed the nature of college. It just offers the...
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