Distance education is a field of education that focuses on the use of technology, and instructional systems designed to deliver education to students who are not physically on site. Rather than attending courses in person, the teachers and students communicate at times of their own choosing by exchanging printed or electronic media. Education may also be delivered through newer technology that allows them to communicate in real time.
Various education formats exist for this type of non-traditional learning. This may exist as correspondence classes conducted via regular mail or as internet based classes that may be delivered synchronously or asynchronously. Many schools are now using telecourse broadcasting where content is delivered by radio or television. Often a CD-ROM is provided where the student interacts with computer content stored on the disc.
Distance education technologies are expanding at an extremely rapid rate. Many people choose this learning style for its convenience and speed. Online students are able to work at their own pace and often finish faster than traditional students. As educational institutions extend their campuses, as the population ages, and as the advance of technology requires a greater need for worker retraining, schools will increasingly have to cater to a different type of student in order to stay ahead and serve their communities.
Although technology is an integral part of distance education, any successful program must focus on the instructional needs of the students, rather than on the technology itself. It is essential to consider their ages, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, interests and experiences, educational levels, and familiarity with distance education methods and delivery systems. Students usually adapt more quickly than their teachers to new technology. On the other hand, teachers who have begun to feel comfortable with the equipment don’t mind having their students teach them new tips and tricks . The most important factor for successful distance learning is a caring, concerned teacher who is confident, experienced, at ease with the equipment, uses the media creatively, and maintains a high level of interactivity with the students.
Interest in online education is especially high in areas where the student population is widely distributed. Each region has developed its own form of distance education in accordance with local resources, target audience, and philosophy of the organizations which provide the instruction. Many institutions now offer courses for self-motivated individuals through independent study programs. Students can work on their own, with supplied course materials, print-based media and postal communication, some form of teleconferencing and/or electronic networking, and learner support from tutors and mentors via telephone or E-mail. St. Augustine Medical Assistant School at http://www.medassistant.org is one such institution now using such technology to train medical assistant and heath care workers.
The number of distance learning and online programs now available is enormous and is growing daily. Similarly the number of schools and institutions that offer learning online is also expanding rapidly. In a survey by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, it was found that “…by 2005, more than 3.2 million students were participating in on-line learning at institutions of higher education in the United States.” The Sloan report was based on a poll of academic leaders, says that students generally appear to be at least as satisfied with their on-line classes as they are with traditional ones. Properly trained staff must also be hired to work with students on-line. These staff members must be able to not only understand the content area, but also be highly trained in the use of the computer and Internet. Online education is increasing.