It's been a long time coming, but now it's a buzzword among
academicians and business executives alike.
The only problem is, like so much technology that's finally
caught up with a decades-old promise, distance education is not
for everyone, and those who wish to use it have to learn a whole
At least teachers who want to conduct education courses at
multiple locations simultaneously must learn a whole new way of
doing things, according to Dr. Lorne A. Parker, president of the
not-for-profit Teletraining Institute of Stillwater.
"It's a lot like buying a brand new video cassette recorder,"
said Parker who moved to Stillwater a year ago from Madison,
Wis., to set up the institute in partnership with Oklahoma State
University. "It seems simple to use it for its basic purpose. But
if you don't know how to do all the programming and use all the
features, you're not getting the full benefit from it.
"That's the way it is with distance education. You can stand
up like you're in a classroom and talk directly into a camera and
you'll probably reach some of your students. But if you
understand all the technology that's available and the best way
to teach by long distance, you'll be a much more effective
Distance education is that type of training using video and
audio connections for communication between teacher and students
over long distances. Class size can vary from one student to as
many as a room will hold. There can be as many classrooms linked
into a network for the course as finances will allow.
Most popular use in academia is to bring a more varied
curriculum to rural areas, allowing isolated students to be in
contact with highly trained teachers in major urban areas via
Many institutes of higher learning started adding distance
learning to their offerings in the late 1970s, allowing employees
of a particular company to receive college credit courses from
their job location.
Private industry also has used distance learning for about 20
years, reducing travel costs while at the same time keeping
employees in outlying branches fully trained and aware of the
latest information from corporate headquarters.
Now, though, we're entering a new realm of distance education,
combining two-way audio and video links with data transmission
from personal computers, allowing real-time interactive teaching
sessions, Parker said.
"The more active involvement between teacher and students, the
better the teaching session will be, just like in a real
classroom," he said. "But there are different skills required for
distance learning as opposed to teaching in front of a
"One of the first things the teachers must learn for distance
education is to get rid of the talking head syndrome, to use as
many teaching aids, films, video and computer text as possible so
that they don't have one person talking the entire class. That's
boring even if you're face-to-face with your class."
That's where the institute comes in.
At least once a month for the rest of this year, the institute
will offer three basic distance education seminars, ranging from
two to three days, each costing about $300 per day, to beginning
teachers and administrators.
"Our seminar teaches the teachers how to use distance
education to its fullest advantage, allowing them to practice
with the latest technology so they can understand how to use it,"
Parker said. …