It's been a long time coming, but now it's a buzzword among academicians and business executives alike.
The only problem is, like so much technology that's finally caught up with a decades-old promise, distance education is not for everyone, and those who wish to use it have to learn a whole new skill.
At least teachers who want to conduct education courses at multiple locations simultaneously must learn a whole new way of doing things, according to Dr. Lorne A. Parker, president of the not-for-profit Teletraining Institute of Stillwater.
"It's a lot like buying a brand new video cassette recorder," said Parker who moved to Stillwater a year ago from Madison, Wis., to set up the institute in partnership with Oklahoma State University. "It seems simple to use it for its basic purpose. But if you don't know how to do all the programming and use all the features, you're not getting the full benefit from it.
"That's the way it is with distance education. You can stand up like you're in a classroom and talk directly into a camera and you'll probably reach some of your students. But if you understand all the technology that's available and the best way to teach by long distance, you'll be a much more effective educator."
Distance education is that type of training using video and audio connections for communication between teacher and students over long distances. Class size can vary from one student to as many as a room will hold. There can be as many classrooms linked into a network for the course as finances will allow.
Most popular use in academia is to bring a more varied curriculum to rural areas, allowing isolated students to be in contact with highly trained teachers in major urban areas via communication links.
Many institutes of higher learning started adding distance learning to their offerings in the late 1970s, allowing employees of a particular company to receive college credit courses from their job location.
Private industry also has used distance learning for about 20 years, reducing travel costs while at the same time keeping employees in outlying branches fully trained and aware of the latest information from corporate headquarters.
Now, though, we're entering a new realm of distance education, combining two-way audio and video links with data transmission from personal computers, allowing real-time interactive teaching sessions, Parker said.
"The more active involvement between teacher and students, the better the teaching session will be, just like in a real classroom," he said. "But there are different skills required for distance learning as opposed to teaching in front of a classroom.
"One of the first things the teachers must learn for distance education is to get rid of the talking head syndrome, to use as many teaching aids, films, video and computer text as possible so that they don't have one person talking the entire class. That's boring even if you're face-to-face with your class."
That's where the institute comes in.
At least once a month for the rest of this year, the institute will offer three basic distance education seminars, ranging from two to three days, each costing about $300 per day, to beginning teachers and administrators.
"Our seminar teaches the teachers how to use distance education to its fullest advantage, allowing them to practice with the latest technology so they can …