It has been a little more than 25 years since the Apple II computer was mass-marketed to the world of education. The familiar "buzz-buzz, clack-clack, and beep-beep" opened a new paradigm in teaching and learning that would not be realized for a number of years. Today, with local area networks, the Internet, and the World Wide Web (WWW), we are beginning to realize some of the opportunities and dimensions of that new paradigm.
Historically, teaching and learning took place in traditional classrooms and laboratories with a variety of instructional strategies. These strategies include lectures, discussions, field trips, films, and videos as well as other techniques to engage students in the learning process. But Still, the domain of the classroom was basically confined to the walls of the school building. The decade of the 1990s brought about a communication and information revolution in the way that we view a classroom or laboratory and the resources for teaching and learning. The Internet and World Wide Web literally opened the doors of the classroom to the world around us. Not only has it opened the doors of the classroom, it has changed the meaning of time--classroom and laboratory time! It is in this context that we are beginning to realize the dimensions of the paradigm that began some time ago--distance learning and the virtual classroom.
There are many definitions of distance learning and virtual classrooms. However, distance learning can be simply defined as learning in which either distance or time separates the instructor and the student. Distance learning can be synchronous in a one-to-many or one-to-one environment where learning takes place in real time. Conversely, the learning environment may be asynchronous and separated by time and distance, where learning takes place at a time selected by the learner and the learner progresses at his or her own pace, independent of others. Virtual classrooms may be thought of as a subset in distance learning. The term virtual classroom originated in 1973 when Murray Turoff created the Electronic Exchange Information System (EIES), an online Group Ware application that implemented the Virtual Classroom at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (Hiltz). The virtual classroom is a teaching and learning environment located within a computer-mediated communication system. The objectives of a virtual classroom are to improve access to advanced educational experiences by allowing students and instructors to participate in remote learning communities. This is accomplished using personal computers at home or at work and improving the quality and effectiveness of education by using the computer to support a collaborative learning process (Turoff).
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Benefits of Distance Learning
There are a number of benefits in using distance learning as a means of providing education and training. The most significant benefit is that distance learning provides an environment for learning that is time- and place-independent. This provides opportunities for individuals who would otherwise not have opportunities for learning. In this context, the distance learning environment is the sole medium in the delivery of instruction. Typically, in this mode, the instruction is web-based and includes almost all of the resources necessary to create an online classroom. Content and instruction may be provided by a sponsoring organization via the Internet in the form of a website that contains the course lessons, support material, and resources. Distance learning also provides:
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Flexibility--Students may access learning materials at convenient times. They can read and respond to email at home in the evening or at other times. Assignments may be completed around work schedules and submitted via email, FTP server, or an assignment center on a class website.
Effectiveness--This is one of the most frequently asked questions. …