Distance Learning: Meaning and its Characteristics

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Distance Learning: Meaning and its Characteristics

Distance Education

Distance education is traditionally defined as, any educational or learning procedure in which the guide and the student are separated geographically. There is no interaction between students.

Distance education also known as distance learning or distributed learning, or remote education, has now existed for ages. It involves acquiring information from methods other then the traditional way of gaining knowledge-attending institutions. Some recent definitions have focused on it as a new development, involving advanced technology.

Present-day distance learning is influenced a lot by computer and electronics technology. The technology has now made it possible for the guide and student to connect almost immediately. Study resources can be delivered instantly through computers, satellites, internet, cable television, interactive video etc.

Correspondence education, the initial form of distance education, developed in the mid-nineteenth century in Europe and then spread to the United States and so on.

Initially distance education used the finest tech logy available at that time, the postal system, to open educational prospects to people who wanted to study but were not able to attend traditional schools. People who gained most from correspondence education were women, professional people, physical disabled, and individuals who lived in areas where schools didn’t exist.

Isaac Pitman, a British is attributed to pioneering the concept of “distance education”. He started by teaching shorthand via correspondence in 1840. Students were asked to copy passages from Bible and send them for grading via the new penny post system.

In, American the distance education began in 1874 at Illinois Wesleyan University where bachelor and graduate degrees could be obtained without being actually present in the classes. The Chautauqua movement in the year 1882 gave the much required thrust to correspondence education.

Correspondence education became quite famous by 1900 and problems of excellence and fair practice came with the popularity. The National Home Study Council (NHSC) was formed in 1926 in part to deal with such issues.

Distance education went through a major change after the invention of radio in the 1920s and the arrival of television in the 1940s. Distance education is increasingly using combinations of different technologies to improve communication between teachers and students. In 1900, after the arrival of computer, distance education took a big leap. Now the teachers and students can converse sitting face-to-face.

Students from business and university level have used the conferencing technique known as one-way video/two-way audio where pictures from television are transmitted to particular sites, people can reply to the newscaster via telephone. Television pictures can also be broadcast in two directions at the same time through telephone lines, so that teachers and students at one place can see and hear teachers and students in other places.

Characteristics of Distance Learning

Desmond Keegan defines Distance Education through the following characteristics:

  1. Quasi permanent separation of teacher and learner throughout the learning process
  2. Influence of an educational organization in preparing the learning materials and providing support service to the learners.
  3. Use of technical media to unite the teacher and the learner and carry the content of the course.
  4. The provision of two way communication between the learner and the teacher to facilitate the process of dialogue.
  5. The quasi permanent absence of learner so that people are taught as individuals rather than group with occasional meetings for socialization and didactic purposes.

According to Borje Holmberg, Distance Education covers the various forms of study at all levels, which are not under the continuous, immediate supervision of tutors present with their students in the lecture room  or in the same premises, but which, nevertheless, benefit from the planning, guidance and tuition of a tutorial organization”.

In the words of Perry and Rumble (1987), Distance Education is a system wherein “the learner and the teacher are not face-to-face. In order for two-way communication to take place between them, a medium such as print, radio, or the telephone has to be used”.

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