Enhancing Distance Learning through Technology

Article excerpt

EDUCATIONAL institutions are currently faced by unprecedented challenges such as rapid technological and societal changes, changes in educational paradigms, volatile increases in the significance of distance learning and the eventual digitization of teaching and learning.

During the last two decades, the world has seen considerable growth in education and training. The need for broad and varied learning opportunities to cope with social, economic and technical changes is increasing. However, the world still suffers from intolerable inequalities both at the international level and within nations. It must be noted that distance learning will be the key strategy for learning and training in the economy of an information society where updated knowledge, skills and information throughout the entire population will be the prime basis for the development of business and nations (Hoyer, 199).

Distance learning concepts

Many definitions of distance learning and/or distance education exist and it could mean inter alia:

1. This occurs when students are in one place and teachers, peer learners, or resources are in another. The gap in time and space between them is bridged with an array of familiar technology as well as new machines of the information age.

2. A mode of delivery indicated by geographical distance and therefore implies learning at a distance from one's lecturer, usually with the help of pre-recorded, packaged learning materials.

3. It is used to cross difficult physical and social boundaries, reaching minorities, high-risk learners, the handicapped, as well as overcoming the tyranny of time and distance and equalizing opportunity for the nation's disenfranchised (Ohler 1991).

4. The separation of the teaching act from the learning act means that for the most part of their learning, distance learners do not have to be present at anyone place or time. As such, learners have greater control over their learning and the choice to manage it in a manner that best suits them (Naidu, 1994).

5. It means employees can still be developed without the necessity of removing them from the job, and the training they receive is both relatively cheap and of the same quality for everyone.

The last definition presents an awareness of the need for workers to continue their education and learning throughout their lives. This shall focus the discussion on lifelong learning. A definition adopted by the UNESCO in 1976 says, "The term lifelong education and learning denotes an overall scheme aimed both at restructuring the existing education system and developing its potential in such a way that men and women are agents of their own education." Life long learning is beginning to take precedence over lifelong education. This involves a general shift from thinking in terms of learning - a shift reflected in 1985 in UNESCO's focus "not on the right to be educated but on the right to learn" (Merriam, 1997). In industries such as information technology, certain knowledge and skills are adequate only for a brief period; hence the need to be lifelong learners.

Technologies have likewise shifted to become more learner-centered and to provide learners more control over their learning. Whereas in the past, typical distance learners were individuals who were unable to participate in the face-to-face educational experiences because of geographic isolation or scheduling conflicts, today however, due to changes in technologies, anyone is a potential distance learner (Williams, Paprock, & Covington, 1999).

Technologies as instructional tools

Not a few consider distance learning as a new form of education because new technologies such as personal computers, the Internet and the WWW have been increasingly applied. In reality, however distance learning has existed for well over 100 years tracing its roots from correspondence courses in Europe. …