Distance Learning: An Alternative to the Traditional Classroom

Distance Learning: Open Education

It’s on everyone’s lips and it’s here to stay. Distance learning or online education, is a well known concept but one that was not widely used until quite recently. However, advances in technology means that this method of learning is fast becoming a realistic and viable alternative to traditional education.


quote marksFive years from now on the Web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university. quote mark

Bill Gates


Origins and Evolution of Distance Learning

distance learningThe origins of distance education appear to date back to the eighteenth century. In 1728 an advert published by the Boston Gazette referred to a self-instructional guide for students with the possibility of corresponding with a tutor. Some people even argue that such a mode of learning can be traced back to biblical times with a pseudonym for distance learning even being mentioned in the epistles of the apostles! 

Distance education, as we know it today, did not really begin to develop until the 1980s. Despite this, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s, with the advent of and widespread use of computers, when distance learning truly began to expand.

Since then the number of schools and educational institutions that offer distance learning via online courses has exploded. Typically in these cases it is a combination of classroom education and distance learning. However, universities and schools such as the Open University, have emerged which offer distance learning exclusively.


Advantages of Distance Learning

The advantages of virtual education are numerous for both schools and for students. Among them are:

  • Removing geographic barriers
  • Flexible school hours
  • Reduced costs (housing, transportation and materials costs)
  • Developing a sense of responsibility, discipline and commitment from the student – they manage their own learning
  • Incorporating technology into the learning process


Technological Evolution

Of course, none of this would be possible without the evolution in educational technologies that we have experienced in recent years. It may seem strange but it was not too long ago that the idea of having a personal computer at home was inconceivable. In a short space of time we have transitioned from hand-cranked machines to extremely advanced electronic devices connected to the internet day and night.

This infographic created by Anglia Ruskin University provides a clear outline of the history and evolution of Distance Learning. Click the image to view it in full:

distance learning infographic

In addition to the development of computers and mobile devices, we also have  virtual learning platforms to help disseminate virtual classes in a simpler way. The expansion of all these technologies has greatly broadened access to quality education. This has lead to a democratisation of education allowing students from all over the world to engage with new ideas and concepts on their own terms.

But this is only the beginning. Education is a field that needs to incorporate technological advancements to fully engage modern students and help them reach their full potential. This video perfectly captures this need for change:

The internet is full of resources to facilitate the transition to “Education 2.0”. Today, teachers and students have free resources such as forums to share questions, online study tools, free software for videoconferencing and storing resources in the cloud, to name but a few.

Online learning platforms, such as ExamTime, provide all the tools that a student would need to study at their own pace, organise their time and create dynamic educational resources that can be shared with others.


The Future of Distance Learning

Distance learning is a logical step in the evolution of education. As we have seen throughout this post, its advantages are irrefutable and much of the technology is already freely availableHowever, the last step needed for distance learning is for it to expand and become the norm rather than the exceptiondistance learningEducation is a very traditional industry that has hardly changed in the last century when compared to other sectors. However, we may be seeing the beginning of the end. 

With a new generation of teachers, these “technology natives” will take command. For them, incorporating technology is the default and that’s why we can expect even more explosive growth in distance learning in the coming years.

A powerful example of this new generation of educators who demand change, set the trends and inform others about new learning technology is Kristen Swanson, author of the highly popular blog “Teachers as Technology Trailblazers“.

Kristen is one of the educational bloggers leading the way by helping people learn better using technology. The methods, advice and learning tools Kristen discusses in her blog are becoming more and more widespread but will hopefully transform conventional teaching and learning worldwide in the future.


What Do You Think?

Our bet is that within 10 years most universities won’t have any physical classes as we now know them, any on-campus classroom will be incorporated with technology. 

So welcome, distance learning! We have been waiting!

We’ll finish with a couple of questions: What do you think of the distance learning? Do you think it will surpass classroom education in the coming years?


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