Distance Education (DE) is relatively a new concept in education. It is an educational trend that is very popular and accepted in many countries. It is a form of indirect instruction. DE is executed with the help of the technical media including printed materials, teaching and learning aids, radio, television and computers. It has emerged as the need of the hour to cater to the demands of various sections of people who aspire to good education. DE is viewed as an alternative method to traditional method of imparting education.
It is a system of education that was developed to satisfy the quest of people to get education at their door step.
Distance education, or distance learning, is a field of education that focuses on the pedagogy, technology, and instructional system designs that aim to deliver education to students who are not physically “on site” in a traditional classroom or campus. It has been described as “a process to create and provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both. In other words, distance learning is the process of creating an educational experience of equal quality for the learner to best suit their needs outside the classroom. Distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason (including taking examinations) is considered a hybrid or blended course of study. This emerging technology is becoming widely used in universities and institutions around the globe. With the recent trend of technological advance, distance learning is becoming more recognized for its potential in providing individualized attention and communication with students internationally.
There are few definitions of DE which are noteworthy:
- Borje Holmberg (1981) – The various forms of study at all levels which are not under continuous, immediate supervision of tutors present with their students in lecture rooms on the same premises but which nevertheless, benefit from the planning, guidance and tuition of a tutorial organization.
- Peters (1973) DE is “a method of imparting knowledge, skills and attitudes which is rationalized by the application of division of labour and organizational principles as well as by the extensive use of technical media, specially for the purpose of reproducing high quality teaching material which makes it possible to instruct great numbers of students at the same time wherever they live. It is an industrialized form of teaching and learning.”
- Moore (1976) DE is the family of instructional methods in which the teaching behaviours are performed apart from learning behaviours including those that in a contiguous situation would be performed in the learner’s presence so that communication between the teacher and the learner must be facilitated by print, electronic, mechanical or other devices.
- Philosophy of DE
The philosophy of DE is based on the various components of learning, like the learner, materials for learning, personnel involved in it etc. According to it, the learner is not mere subject of certain operations but he is generator of forces and currents which he can command and shape as per his demand and desire. The student is self directed, active agent making choices taking decisions directing the process quantitatively and qualitatively. In the process, he develops progressively better competence and self propulsion.
DE postulates a design for instruction that is comprehensive in coverage, permanent, innovative, multilevel in offerings, multi-media in approach and need based in focus. It assumes the active role and responsibility of the learner in the entire enterprise. DE provides a self renewing exercise for the learner taking place at every moment.
- Need for DE
- Knowledge never becomes obsolete.
- Ambitions are going higher.
- People want to improve their life style and living standard.
- Formal education not adequate enough to meet the demands of the coming century.
- Constraints in terms of man power and money to build educational institutions, appoint teachers and provide other infrastructure lead to alternative ways of education.
- Distance of students from educational institutions.
- Industrialization of the state – employment market is active and booming.
- Characteristics of DE
Desmond Keegan (1986) projects seven principal characteristics of DE:
- There is teacher- student distance, separating them throughout the learning process.
- The influence of an external organization in planning and preparing the materials and making provision for student services.
- Use of technical media: print, audio, video, computer etc.
- Provision of two way communication so that they can even initiate a dialogue.
- The absence of group learning. People are taught as individuals not as a group.
- Participation in the most industrialized form of education.
- Privatization of learning.
- Types of DE
1) Open Schedule: An open schedule can be taken anywhere and gives students the most freedom possible. In this plan, students are given a set of deadlines that they must meet within a certain amount of time, but they can work anytime and anywhere to meet the course requirements. This program is ideal for independent workers and people who don’t struggle with procrastination.
2) Blended Learning: The second most common strategy used in distance learning is one that offers an open schedule, but requires students to communicate in an established location. This could mean that students are able to complete assignments on their own time, but they are required to meet in a classroom or computer chat room to touch base.
3) Computer Based Learning: Computer Based Learning is the strictest version of distance learning, requiring students to participate at designated times and places. This means that students must touch base at a designated computer lab, or even meet in an actual classroom at a pre-determined time.
4) Fixed Time E-Learning: The most common form of distance learning is a program that sets a pre-determined schedule that can be kept from any location. This could mean that students are able to work from home, school, or the office, as long as they log onto the online learning site at a designated time. These programs often include a live online forum.
- Synchronous technology is a mode of online delivery where all participants are “present” at the same time. Requires a timetable to be organized. Telephone , Videoconferencing, Web Conferencing, Audio conferencing, Internet chat are examples of Synchronous technologies.
- Asynchronous technology is a mode of online delivery where participants access course materials on their own schedule. Students are not required to be together at the same time. Audiocassette, E-mail , Message Board Forums ,Print Materials, Voice Mail/fax Videocassette, Broadcast video, Radio, CD-ROM are examples of Asynchronous technologies
- Mode of Operation
There are three modes of Operation for DE:
- Department of Correspondence courses in universities and university level institutions.
- Open universities exclusively involved in imparting hr. education through DE mode.
- A large number of private institutions mostly offering professional courses.
- Distinction between Open Learning (OL) and DE
The terms “Open Learning” and “DE” are often interchangeably used. There are educationists who argue that both are same and others see it as different.
OL covers a wide range of innovation and reform in the educational sector. These changes are expected to improve the participation of learners, instructional design, method of transmitting information and support learners. UNESCO (1975) describes opern learning as a system designed to offer opportunities for part time study, for learning at a distance and for innovations in the curriculum. They are intended to allow access to wider sector of adult population. It aims to redress social and educational inequality and offer opportunities not provided by conventional college or universities.
In OL, restrictions on learning are few. Educational opportunities are planned deliberately so that access to knowledge is available to individuals.
“Open” refers to 4 aspects:
- People – it would not debar applicants on account of their lack of educational qualifications.
- Place – learning would be home based and not restricted to class room or campus.
- Use of new methods of teaching
- Ideas – New learning content will be promoted
There are several similarities between OL and DE. However DE is the broader term accommodating OL as well. Therefore, we can say OL synonymous with DE. The word DE is more appropriate.
- Educational Implications
- Education need not be always teacher centered and class room based. On the other hand DE points to more student based approach.
- Education can be carried on with a lot of flexibility with regard to time and space.
- Students can enter into various other activities while pursuing learning.
- The modern media and communication technology can be instrumental in imparting knowledge.
- Education can embrace a bigger number of people of all categories. More educational opportunities are made available.
- From the economic point of view, education can be made cheaper.
- The concept of evaluation at students own pace has gained momentum. It need not be rigid and fixed.
- Education needs to use the underutilized resources. Innovative ways of imparting education can lead to the maximum use of infrastructure, personnel and other facilities which in turn will facilitate the faster development of education.
- Advantages of DE
Some of the following advantages may be mentioned:
- It is the most flexible educational system which is not limited by place and time restrictions.
- DE can be used at any level from primary to higher education.
- It can supplement the studies of regular students, DE being a separate system of education.
- Under this system learner can progress at his own speed.
- It is an economical method compared to the regular system. From the point view of infrastructure as well, it requires existing facilities. Similarly personnel.
- Learners can advantage of the lectures of most efficient teachers which are not always possible in all conventional institutions.
- The best part of the system is that it can reach any remote areas through postal service if not through TV.
- It leads to self learning and making it more student centered.
- It fulfills the need of many learners who either fall out of the conventional stream for different reasons or who are employed and do not find time to go to them however keen they may be.
- Problems of DE
Prof. G. Ram Reddy (1988) commented that the Correspondence Courses may have the following problems:
- They are treated as appendages to the conventional universities. They do not have freedom either in designing their courses or in incurring expenditure. Decision making is totally in the hands of others.
- Their courses , regulations regarding entry examinations etc. are the same as those stipulated for regular students. Their courses suffer from the same rigidities as those of the courses designed for regular students.
- In most institutes, the only method of instruction is through correspondence material.
- The academics and administrators of the conventional system treat the correspondence education as second class system.
- Evaluation in DE
Evaluation is a challenging task in DE as it differs in its operational parameters. Students are apart from teachers; class rooms are non existent. In this context a number of evaluation techniques are applied to evaluate students. They apply: written tests, on line tests, assignments, projects. Oral exams etc. It can also be formative and summative evaluation, quantitative and qualitative.