What Is Distance Education

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The Traditional Model

How far away do you live from the nearest college or university? Assume that you live fairly close, maybe just down the road. How much would it cost you to attend? Assume that it is fairly inexpensive, even free for local residents such as yourself. Do you have the luxury of devoting your full time to receiving a university education? Assume that you do.

We have just described a very rare person—a person who has easy access to an education, low educational expenses, and all the time he or she needs to complete that education. Few people today fit that description, yet this dilemma has been the case throughout much of history. Access, funding, and time have always impeded many learners from receiving an education, such as a college degree, a certificate, or courses taken for personal enrichment.

Historically, education has been provided solely within the walls of schools and universities. Education was structured to serve a privileged few and, therefore, failed to meet the needs of prospective learners who could not dedicate their lives to attending school.

Characteristics of Distance Education

Nobody sat down one day and thought, “I’m going to provide access to education for more people.” Instead, various entrepreneurial-minded people gradually devised solutions to the obstacles of location, cost, and time to allow prospective learners to receive an education. Many of these ventures became part of what we now call distance education. Today, learners can avoid the obstacles naturally inherent in traditional education by taking classes via distance education programs.

Obviously, distance education permits a learner and a teacher to be in different locations and use technology to engage in educational tasks. As an Axia College student, you are part of this movement. Axia is an entirely online college with students and faculty spread across the globe.

With access to distance education, learners are now able to receive an education at a pace that is convenient to them. In other words, distance education makes it possible to receive an education without devoting one’s full time to it. Again, this describes many Axia students who work full time or have busy family responsibilities, yet can take courses at their own pace and gradually earn their degrees over time.

Many of the same technologies that permit learners and teachers to be in different geographic locations also make education more financially feasible. Distance education technologies reduce the cost of delivering an education, translating into a lower cost for the learner. Likewise, the higher the supply of distance education programs, the lower the cost of the education.

We shall explore further by discussing how technology is a central component of distance education.

What Role Does Technology Play in Distance Education?

Most people think of electronic devices when we talk about technology and that is appropriate in today’s world. Designers and consumers of distance education have always used the technology available at the time to teach and learn. This is true even when “technology” did not refer to electronic devices. The earliest examples of distance education technology involved the postal mail system. Teachers and learners used postal mail to communicate and share materials. In Europe during the 1830s and 40s, students were able to enroll in composition or shorthand courses through the mail (Tracey & Richey, 2005). Later in the 19th century, several distance education programs were established in the United States, some of which were associated with major universities such as the University of Chicago (Harting & Erthal, 2005). These early examples of distance education courses are often referred to as correspondence courses.

As electronic devices became commonplace, educators found ways to use them for educational purposes. Radio, television, satellite communication, and eventually video cassettes,...
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