This article covers a brief evolution of distance education from "snail mail" to the more current incarnations utilizing technology to facilitate learning.
Distance Learning Online is defined as utilizing some of the following mechanisms:
- electronic mail (delivery of course materials, sending in assignments, getting/giving feedback, using a course listserv, i.e., electronic discussion group)
- bulletin boards/newsgroups for discussion of special topics;
- downloading of course materials or tutorials;
- interactive tutorials on the Web;
- real-time, interactive conferencing using MOO (Multiuser Object Oriented) systems or Internet Relay Chat;
- "intranets," corporate websites protected from outside access that distribute training for employees; and
- informatics, the use of online databases, library catalogs, and gopher and websites to acquire information and pursue research related to study.
Advantages of distance learning include
- time and place flexibility;
- potential to reach a global audience;
- no concern about compatibility of computer equipment and operating systems;
- quick development time, compared to videos and CD-ROMs;
- easy updating of content, as well as archival capabilities; and
- usually lower development and operating costs
As a on campus & distance education student (MLIS) I have participated in all of those types of DL learning except for MOO. I found some mechanisms more convenient than others although I didn't seem that any of them gave a true in class feel , which was not necessarily the point, but sometimes a nice touch. Although this article takes issue with the isolation issue of distance learning ("some learners are not comfortable with it"), I think it is a very important issue. I feel that I generally feel comfortable in an online environment yet I find learning online (with no human contact) more time intensive than f2f and sometimes even boring. DL is much more learner centered. In a classroom situation, a teacher may be able to "see" that a student is bored, frustrated, or not "getting it." In an online environment all of the responsibility is on the student to provide that feedback.