In a world that is swiftly modernizing, new innovations are created to suit almost every need of all people. As we all know, education is a basic human right and it is every educational institution’s responsibility to provide appropriate learning “grounds” for students who cannot directly go to school on a regular basis because of their condition or situation. In cases when a student has a job, has a physical disability or is living in a far place, distance education can be a great option for them to get education without being encumbered by their situation or condition.
Stewart (2004) defined distance education as:
A method of teaching and learning where all or part of the process may take place without direct face-to-face interaction between student and teacher and student and student. Distance education implies a physical separation of teacher and learner, and may include such communication methods as Internet, phone, video, mail, or print.
As current statistics show, more and more students in the United States are taking advantage of distance education. Allen & Seaman (2007) informed that “almost 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006”. This marks “a nearly 10 percent increase over the number reported the previous year”. In the same period, “nearly twenty percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course”.
In this time and age where college education can be quite expensive, more students need to take jobs in order to suffice their financial needs for their school fees. In this case, distance education can make colleges and universities adjust to the conditions and situations of every student.
As the traditional education takes place at the same time in the same place, this setup transforms into a regular self-contained classroom that most often is teacher-centered. In distance education, individual learning can occur in a learning center or that multiple sections of the same classes are offered so students can attend the class in the same place at a time they chose. This is education that is available at different times to students but in the same place, such as the media center or computer laboratory. Also, in distance education, instruction can take place in different places at the same time when telecommunications systems are used.
Often, television is used to connect the local classroom with the teacher and students to learners at a distance. Satellite, compressed video, and fiber-optic systems are increasingly used for same-time, different-place education. This approach is also called “synchronous” distance learning. Students can also learn at different times and in different places. But, the purest form of distance education occurs at different times and in different places. In other words, learners choose when and where to learn and when and where to access instructional materials. Recently, World Wide Web courses have been offered to learners anywhere they have access and whenever they choose. This approach is called “asynchronous” distance learning (Simonson et al., 2003).
As more and more institutions are tweaking their courses for distance education, it takes a matter of time that the quality of distance education and traditional classroom will be at par with each other. In the research of Ortiz et al. (2005), they informed that “quality in distance education” should be geared towards “teaching and learning activities”, combined with the “components of these processes: course design, support services, and interaction”.
It also involves “administrative practices that can encourage students to fulfill their educational goals”. Also, in their research, they gathered student perceptions about distance education and the results from their study revealed “instructors’ use of technological communication tools – such as chat rooms and discussion boards – is related to students’ perceptions of a quality distance education program”. Ortiz et al. (2005) recommended that educational institutions should “provide communication tools training and quality technical support for those developing distance education courses and to encourage instructors to learn distance education skills and methods that facilitate communication”.
With the fast technological innovations, necessary changes in communication facilities will further enhance distance education so that it can equal the experience of students attending traditional classrooms.
Ultimately, we can consider distance education as an equalizer to all people who want to have education. This tremendous idea may change, even restructure, education, but only if it is possible to make the experience of the distant learner as complete, satisfying, and acceptable as the experience of all learners. If distance education is to be a successful and mainstream approach, then it is imperative that distance education systems be designed to permit equivalent learning experiences for distant and local students. With the emergence of new technologies, the improvement of distance education is quite achievable and it will benefit more students who want to access their rights to get good education, without being hindered by their conditions or situations.
Allen, I.E. & Seaman, J. (2007). Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning. Needham, MA: Sloan Consortium. Web.
Ortiz-Rodríguez, M., Telg, R.W., Irani, T., Roberts, T.G., & Rhoades, E. (2005). College Students’ Perceptions of Quality in Distance Education: The Importance of Communication. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 6(2): 97-109.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M. & Zvacek, S. (2003). Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education, 2nd ed. NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Stewart, H. (2004). Factors Affecting Successful Student Completion in a Career Oriented Program. Master of Distance Education thesis, Athabasca University. Web.