Distance Education's Impact during Economic Hardship: How Distance Learning Impacts Educational Institutions and Businesses in Times of Economic Hardship

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Definition of Terms

The following terms are defined to unify the concepts and research presented hereafter.

Distance Education. Education taking place with the student physically or geographically removed from the instructor using some form of technology to facilitate learning and contact (Valentine, 2002).

Distance Learning. Used synonymously with distance education (Valentine, 2002).

Currency of Issues

Distance education is one of the most outstanding and scrutinized aspects of educational evolution and recent issues (Valentine, 2002). It is an international practice that is quickly becoming foundational in the area of higher education (Tucker, 2001). Though the simple concept of distance education is not new, applying state of the art technology to the field has affected an increase of implementation for reasons that range from finances, to time management, to ease of use and geographical issues (Carr 2001). The field of distance learning has more than doubled between 2002 and 2006 and is in need of analysis (Pisel, 2008). Also, the United States economy has been in the midst of significant economic hardship for over a year at the time this article was written (Lee, 2009). Recession, economic downturn and financial hardships are frequently used terms throughout the media (Lee, 2009), and in distance education circles, thus bringing this issue into the forefront of relevancy.

Controversial Topics

With economic tensions rising, a potential ethical concern develops within distance learning institutions surrounding the dilemma of focusing courses on popular curriculum that students have a higher demand for at the cost of leaving other important curriculum out because it is not as profitable to offer (Howell, 2003). As educational and work culture develops, an ethical concern arises around the concept of workers and students being expected to further their training and education apart from employer compensation. In the midst of economic decline it may be seen as unethical for employers to require employees to be financially responsible for their own training and education (Guri-Rosenblit, 2005; Lanier, 2006). This also creates a point of unfair advantage as employers enter into a position where they may penalize or terminate workers who do not pay for their own education and advancement, thus causing employees to become unofficially financially responsible for their training (Simmons, 2006). In addition to these concerns, there are still a significant number of instructors in higher academic circles who continue to hold the belief that distance learning is inferior to traditional face-to-face education (Yang, 2005).

Special Interests

There are various constituencies with interests regarding the effects of economic hardship on educational institutions and businesses. Businesses, governments and the general populace have significant interest in this topic because it deals with the development and retention of human capital, which is seen as one of the core sources of economic gain in modern society (Downey, 2005). The very nature of the topic creates interest as distance education is often seen as a means of combating economic hardship and is supported by the government funds and private endowments (Naidoo, 2003). Distance education also cannot exist without technology thus by default those with technological interests have stake in the issue. By default, since the technology industry creates programs and applications to assist and mediate distance learning, it has a significant interest in the increased use of distance education (Saba, 2005).



In declining economic times, businesses experience higher levels of financial gain via distance learning while higher education benefits from specialized student population increases. As economic forces shift negatively there is also a shift in profitability in the area of distance education as academic institutions begin to experience lower profits and businesses realize higher profit levels. …