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Office of Instructional Technology

What is Distance Education?

What is Distance Education?

The United States Distance Learning Association defines distance learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction, encompassing all technologies and other forms of learning at a distance.
Distance Education usually involves providing learners with instruction any place, any time, emphasizing students' flexibility in when, where, and how to study. Through distance education, academic units can begin to accommodate an increasingly diverse student body and bring learning opportunities to people not usually found within a campus based university system.  Such flexibility can be introduced in a number of ways:
Flexibility of time: Teaching and learning are not restricted to a set schedule of events. Rather, students can choose times that are most convenient to them and their lifestyle. Lecture and course materials can be accessed 24 hours a day.
Flexibility of place: Students are not required to come to campus to attend class sessions. Teaching sessions and associated learning materials can be accessed from both on- and off campus.

Flexibility of pedagogy: Students are provided with choices in the teaching resources and methods to best suit their particular learning needs. Knowledge can be constructed through collaborative processes, thereby engaging students more directly in their own learning.

Flexibility of pacing: Students can progress through a course at their own pace in accordance with their academic background and personal circumstances. Material may be viewed multiple times, and often there can be immediate feedback to students about how well they're doing.
What's new about Distance Education?
The more recent notion of distance education is one that aims to bridge the gap between on and off campus learning by providing all students with substantially the same teaching materials and learning experiences. It then  becomes feasible for students to choose whether they wish to study on and off campus or a combination of both.

Distance education today uses teaching and learning resources that are independent of real time contact with teaching staff.  These teaching resources may take a variety of forms including web sites, computer mediated communications (such as e-mail and Internet conferencing), printed materials, audio/videotapes, digital databases, CD-ROMs, and television broadcasts.

The combination of particular resources that is used depends on the educational objectives of the course, the expected characteristics of the students, and institutional requirements, and is largely determined by the instructor, often in consultation with information professionals.
With the convergence of computer and communications technology through the World Wide Web, we now have the capacity to offer enhanced forms of flexibility in instruction and learning. The capacity of the World Wide Web to hyperlink and layer information, provide interactivity, and support multimedia formats, makes it a valuable and exciting tool which can used to develop, deliver, and manage distance education programs.
At its simplest, web-assisted instruction can coordinate and manage learning and act as a point of communication for staff and students. At its most sophisticated, web-based instruction can become a virtual classroom that directs the entire educational process.

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What is Distance Education?
Page editor: Lisa Robinson
Last updated: March 27, 2000