Neal, Ed, National Forum
Although the term "distance education" is of relatively recent coinage, the concept of "learning at a distance" is not new at all. For example, correspondence courses first appeared in Germany, England, and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. These courses were intended to provide vocational training to serve the demands of growing industrial economies, but the idea of learning on one's own proved so attractive that by the early twentieth century courses in every conceivable subject were offered by colleges, universities, and proprietary institutes.
When radio (and later, television) was introduced, almost immediately the new technology was used to supplement traditional correspondence courses (the first educational radio license was issued in 1921, the first educational television license in 1945). Following the same pattern, twoway video and networked computing are rapidly being adapted to the needs of distance education. The power and flexibility of the new technology make it a natural choice for delivery of these courses, and most postsecondary institutions are developing distance programs using various combinations of audio, video, and computer technology. Western Governor's University is probably the most widely publicized "virtual university" in the United States, created by pooling resources from various colleges, universities, and corporations, and the Open University in England has also expanded vigorously into the Internet. Many (perhaps most) postsecondary institutions in the United States have joined consortia to provide distance-education courses. For example, the Southern Regional Electronic Campus spans 15 states and includes almost 200 institutions, from community colleges to research universities.
Although Internet-based courses have received the most attention in the popular press, their expansion has not meant the abandonment of traditional distance-education formats. Both the Open University and Western Governor's University use a variety of formats and technologies, including mail, television, video and audio tape, videoconferencing, satellite broadcasts, and e-mail. Indeed, the Open University defines itself as a "multiple-media distance learning system," and many of its courses are taught in traditional classrooms. The University of Phoenix, a rapidly expanding proprietary school, subscribes to the same philosophy, although its offerings are still primarily residential. Clearly, the expansion of these "alternative institutions" is based less on advanced technology than on a reconceptualization of the entire enterprise of postsecondary education. Their motto seems to be "Education -- anytime, anywhere, at reasonable rates."
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME? Some of the people involved in developing these alternative institutions believe that all education in the future will be delivered via distance learning. Peter Drucker, a well-known management consultant, expressed this view two years ago, confidently predicting the end of the university:
Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won't survive. It's as large a change as when we first got the printed book. Do you realize that the cost of higher education has risen as fast as the cost of health care? . . . Such totally uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or the quality of education, mean that the system is rapidly becoming untenable. Higher education is in deep crisis.... Already we are beginning to deliver more lectures and classes off campus via satellite or two-way video at a fraction of the cost. The college won't survive as a residential institution (Forbes 10 Mar 97).
Predictions of this sort are, of course, very unsettling to academics and administrators at traditional institutions, but I believe that fundamental forces are at work that will ensure the survival of traditional educational institutions. …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Distance Education. Contributors: Neal, Ed - Author. Magazine title: National Forum. Volume: 79. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 1999. Page number: 40+. © 1999 Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.