Distance learning, sometimes called e-learning, is a formalized teaching and learning system specifically designed to be carried out remotely by using electronic communication. Because distance learning is less expensive to support and is not constrained by geographic considerations, it ofportunities in situations where traditional education has difficulty operating. Students with scheduling or distance problems can benefit, as can employees, because distance education can be more flexible in terms of time

Who Needs / Uses Distance Education.

1 Adult learning In the past, most distance education focused on adult learners, especially in rural districts. The largest use was for "short courses to help farmers and small businesses adapt to new technologies" . This remains the most common usage worldwide. Estimates of the number of distance learners in China range from one to two million. Other adult-oriented programs include the entire Open University in the UK, and extensive programs from Norway to South Africa. In recent years, complete post-secondary degree programs have begun to appear.

2.2 K-12 Education The most rapidly-growing distance learning sector is the pre-university age group - what in the U.S. is referred to as K-12. This is usually in the "form of curriculum enrichment modules and ongoing telecommunications projects"
This is an exploding market, and Universities are increasingly providing advanced course programs for middle school students ¯ courses for which there is not enough demand at their local school to allocate the resources, but which can prove profitable when made available to students at all of the area K-12 schools.

2.3 Disabled and Homebound Individuals who cannot easily travel, including senior citizens and the disabled, are natural candidates for distance education. Some people also may not be able to physically manipulate the technologies required ¯ a situation which will worsen as technologies evolve, unless specific action is taken to reduce the problems. Devices exist to alleviate physical barriers, and need to be incorporated in instructional designs.

2.4 Non-Native Language Speakers Increasing population migration has led to a growth in the numbers of people in all areas who are non-native language speakers, and who are unable to comprehend the classes normally on offer.

2.5 Shift from Industrial to International Service Sector Economy 1956 saw the number of white-collar workers in the U.S. surpassing the number of blue-collar workers. By 1987, over 50% of the labor force in the U.S. could be categorized as "information workers." This has contributed to a number of factors which must be considered:
.5.1 Changing Work Patterns: There has been an increase in alternative work arrangements, including flextime and work-at-home arrangements. Coupled with the flattening of institutional hierarchies engendered by new management theories (e.g. Total Quality Management), this has led to greater individual responsibility and thus increasing learner autonomy. To maintain currency, workers increasingly need to collaborate "with widely dispersed colleagues and peers whom they may never have seen."

One effect has been a strong trend towards having programs delivered to companies, especially in global corporations. Cathay Pacific airline executives in Hong Kong, for example, are enrolled in 3-year distance education MBA programs through the University of Michigan. For many workers, taking a year or two off from work to go back to school is an increasingly unacceptable tradeoff. It is much tougher to look for another job afterwards, despite new training, since the training may not directly relate to the changes in the job which have come about during those years.

2.5.2 Changing Social Patterns: Traditional desires continue, such as the opportunity to hear speakers and take courses which would otherwise be unavailable in the local community. Expanding global awareness has also led to an interest in other cultures and desire for exposure to different social, cultural, economic, and religious environments.
More significantly, the rising cost of living and tightening labor markets have led to more two-income families. It is no longer possible for many to return to school while their spouse works to support the family. And there is an increasing need to balance academic involvements with work and family commitments. People are less able to pick up and move for whatever reason.

2.5.3 Changing Education Patterns: Changing work patterns are leading in the direction of lifetime learning. Increasingly rapid changes in the work environment are bringing about a need for periodic retraining. There is a growing demand for employees with diverse and continually evolving skills, unlike the industrial era when the skills needed for different jobs were relatively fixed.
Adults especially need to be able to begin courses at any time, rather than at the beginning of the traditional semesters. This usually involves self-paced tutorials, with some computer interaction (e.g. the continuous registration policy at Athabasca University).
Many of these patterns result in distance learners who are older than traditional campus students, and "they are usually self-directed, experienced, and motivated by extrinsic factors such as job promotion and salary"

All of these developments are also leading to a growing social acceptance of distance education

Technologies used in delivery

The types of available technologies used in distance education are divided into two groups: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous technology is a mode of online delivery where all participants are "present" at the same time requiring a timetable to be organized. Web Conferencing is an example of synchronous technology. Asynchronous technology is a mode of online delivery where participants access course materials on their own schedule. Students are not required to be together at the same time. Message board forums, e-mail and recorded video are examples of asynchronous technology.

Synchronous technologies

Asynchronous technologies

There are also Learning Management Systems or Learning Content Management Systems which can be used for both Synchronous and Asynchronous learning. (LMS is not so much a learning tool as a framework for an instructor to better administer the classroom.)

Types of distance education courses

  • Correspondence conducted through regular mail
  • Internet conducted either synchronously or asynchronously
  • Telecourse/Broadcast, in which content is delivered via radio or television
  • CD-ROM, in which the student interacts with computer content stored on a CD-ROM
  • PocketPC/Mobile Learning where the student accesses course content stored on a mobile device or through a wireless server [16]
  • Integrated distance learning, the integration of live, in-group instruction or interaction with a distance learning curriculum [17]
Distance Education has traversed four to five 'generations' of technology in its history.[18] These are print, audio/video broadcasting, audio/video teleconferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/ online-learning, computer broadcasting/webcasting etc. Yet the radio remains a very viable form, especially in the developing nations, because of its reach. Australian children in extremely remote areas have been participating in the "School of the air" since the 1940s using 2 way radio[19]. In India the FM Channel is very popular and is being used by universities, to broadcast educational programs of variety on areas such as teacher education, rural development, programs in agriculture for farmers, science education, creative writing, mass communication, in addition to traditional courses in liberal arts, science and business administration. The increasing popularity of mp3 players, PDAs and Smart Phone has provided an additional medium for the distribution of distance education content, and some professors now allow students to listen or even watch video of a course as a Podcast [20]. Some colleges have been working with the U.S. military to distribute entire course content on a PDA to deployed personnel.[21]

Major benefits of use

Distance education provides major benefits to at least three main markets or categories, such as:
  • Expanding access: Distance education can reach underserved populations of students who cannot attend a school that offers the educational services they desire, perhaps because they live too far away.
  • pportunitiesEmerging market : Distance education fuels the public's need for lifelong learning in education by providing access to learners not in the traditional k-12 age group.
  • Adapting to new technology and environments: Educational institutions may adopt distance education as a means to adapt to the rapid changes in technology being used in education today.[22] ]]