A Brief History of E-learning and Distance Education

E-learning is a very broad term. It is used to describe any type of learning environment that is computer enhanced. There are multiple technologies that can be employed in E-learning. It has become one of those types of words that are so general as to have lost some of its meaning. Distance learning is something that has evolved from Elearning. It is used to describe a learning environment that takes place away from the actual traditional classroom and campus.

E-learning began at just about the same time that a computer was developed that was practical for personal use. In fact, the concept and practice of distance learning predates the computer area by almost 100 years. In England, in 1840, shorthand classes were being offered by correspondence courses through the mail. The improvements to the postal service made this method of distance learning popular in the early part of the last century. This led to a large number of “through the mail” type of educational programs. The computer only made distance learning easy and better. Television, video recorders, and even radio have all made a contribution to distance learning.

E-learning and distance learning are not quite the same thing. The basic thing that distinguishes distance education is the physical separation of the student from the instructor and the class room. E-learning, however, became part of the classroom environment from the beginning. The early use of computers was geared to help the classroom instructor. Gradually, as more and more personal computers became available, the idea of online classes was explored by some pioneering Colleges and Universities. The early attempts at distance education were hampered by resistance from traditionalist within the education field.

Some invoked what they called the philosophy of education to demonstrate that the teacher was essential to the educational process. This resistance led to the early online degrees being considered inferior to traditionally obtained degrees. This prejudice extended to the personal departments of major employers. When choosing between two otherwise equally qualified applicants, preference was shown to the person holding the traditional degree. In recent years this has changed drastically. The improvements in E-learning technology and the ability to create virtual classrooms and a virtual learning environment (VLE) has gradually broken down the resistance. This process has been helped by the emergence of a new generation that was weaned on the computer. It would not be surprising if within another generation, the pendulum shifts completely and the online degree is the one that is respected and coveted.

Definition of Distance Education

Distance education is oftentimes referred to as “Distance Learning” as well, and is simply defined as “a field of education focusing on the andragogy and pedagogy, instructional systems, and technology which endeavor to deliver an education to students who are not physically in a classroom or campus setting.” In its simplest terms, it means earning a degree online.

The use of electronic (i.e. computers) and printed media enable the student to pursue their education without attending classes on a college or university campus. They are enabled to communicate and study at the times they select, through various technologies that allow them to interact in real time and through many different ways using the internet.

Additionally, distance education courses do not require any physical presence on-site for reasons inclusive of taking examinations that are considered to be blended or hybrid courses of study.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Distance Learning

Naturally, there are advantages and disadvantages to distance education degree programs. However, contrary to varied beliefs and opinions, the distance education advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

The Advantages of distance learning are:

1. It requires no commuting – therefore saving you money and time

2. You complete most of the classes at your own pace – no pressure

3. You can live anywhere in the world, study from anywhere in the world, and pursue your choice of distance education course studies

4. Gain extra knowledge while you are learning – taking those computer and internet skills you gain and then applying them to other facets of your life

5. The self-paced learning environment can be taken advantage of by the quickest or the slowest of learners – increases the satisfaction level while reducing stress in the process

6. Accessibility factors – distance education courses address the physical accessibility issues that people with mobility problems oftentimes encounter while being enrolled in the traditional on-campus classes

Unfortunately, you can’t discuss the advantages of distance education without covering the disadvantages. These disadvantages are the following:

7. Sometimes the technology is complex and costly – despite the numerous opportunities of distance education, there are always accompanying costs

8. Advance planning is necessary – both the instructors and the students oftentimes need to make sacrifices scheduling the times to get things done

9. Beware of hidden costs – If you’re in naval branch of the military for example, and you are out at sea, how do you receive your study materials?

10. Distance learning does not offer immediate feedback – in the traditional classroom setting, the student’s performance is immediately assessed, whereas with distance education, the student has to wait for feedback while the instructor is reviewing their work

11. Distance learning does not always offer all the necessary courses online – students pursuing specific certificates or degrees may not be afforded all the necessary courses that are available through distance education programs so some programs are not suited for all course of study.

12. Distance learning may not be acknowledged by all employers – granted, most employers will acknowledge distance education, but there are some who don’t

13. Distance learning does not give students the opportunity to work on oral communication skills – students in distance education courses do not always get to engage in verbal interaction with fellow students and professors

14. Social isolation – more often than not, you study alone and distance learning students often times feel isolated and miss the social interaction that accompanies the traditional classroom on campus