Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Distance Learning's Growing Reach

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Distance Learning's Growing Reach

Article excerpt

Education has received a much needed boost in the form of distance learning and a key catalyst for the growth of distance learning is video communications. This visual extension of the classroom includes videoconferencing, where multiple classrooms conduct interactive sessions; broadcasting, where one site communicates to multiple classes; and personal conferencing, where individuals can communicate with one another visually on their computers.

Video communications has become affordable and practical for distance learning through the use of a technology known as compressed digital video. This technology makes the transmission of video less costly by reducing the size of the video needed to be transmitted. Before compressed digital video, only a handful of educational institutions operated small analog-based closed-circuit television networks.

Today, the distance learning environment has changed dramatically. Educators increasingly seek new solutions to a myriad of challenges including rising costs, reduced operating budgets, over-utilized resources (from faculty to the physical plant), and growing competition for a declining student pool. At the same time, advances in both two-way interactive and one-way broadcast video technology have made distance learning more versatile and cost-effective than ever, ideal for a wide range of educational applications.

Distance learning has become a core educational strategy in the 1990s, with a reach that extends to a broad cross-section of institutions and curriculum providers around the world.

* Full Spectrum of Applications

The picture most often associated with distance learning is that of college students on an outlying campus gathered to watch a televised lecture by a professor at a campus several hundred miles away. And indeed, the broadcast of selected courses taught by distinguished or popular professors to remote sites is one of the most common distance learning applications. But it is by no means the only one. Today, digital video is used for a full spectrum of applications designed to meet the diverse requirements of students and institutions alike. These include:

* Statewide cooperative educational programs involving many institutions offering curricula for grade levels from kindergarten to graduate school;

* Multi-campus administration of distance learning designed to share resources among participating institutions;

* Faculty workshops providing high-quality, cost-efficient professional training and that promote improved communications among geographically dispersed instructors;

* College-level degree programs for non-traditional students who are employed full-time in the business community;

* Specialized job-skills training taught by highly qualified faculty members in disciplines such as engineering, medicine and business; and

* Innovative curricula like global field trips where students can be taken almost anywhere through the magic of video.

Distance learning provides educational institutions with a number of important benefits. First, it can significantly extend, and often improve, the quality of an institution's educational offerings--ensuring that students on remote campuses or attending rural schools have access to the same classes and teachers as those on the main campus or attending better-funded urban schools. In addition, distance education can bring added consistency to the curriculum, for example, by making certain that all students--regardless of campus--take core courses from the university's two or three best instructors in each subject area.

Second, distance learning delivers substantial economic benefits. It reduces the time and expenses required to shuttle instructors from campus to campus around the state or across a large school district. Further, distance learning can help schools maintain or increase student enrollments, generating much-needed added revenues. …

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