Distance Education: Methods

In Distance Education, students may not be required to be present in a classroom, but that also may be a question of option. As for an electronic classroom or Virtual Learning Environment, it may or not be a part of a distance education set up. Electronic classrooms can be both on campus, and off campus. We would call such institutions as using a 'flexible' delivery mode.

Distance Education may also use all forms of technology, from print to the computer. This range will include radio, television, audio video conferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/on-line learning et al. (E-learning/online-learning are largely synonymous). A distinction is also made between open learning and distance learning. To clarify our thinking we can say that while 'open' education is the system in which the student is free to choose the time and place, but distance education is a teaching methodology used when the student and teacher are separated by time and place. Thus it follows that not all open-learning institutions use distance education and not all organizations that use distance education are open learning institutions. Indeed there are many cases in which students are in traditional classrooms, connected via a video-conferencing link to a teacher in a distant classroom. This method is typical in geographically dispersed institutions. Conversely, the term virtual university is sometimes used to describe an open-learning institution that uses the Internet to create an imaginary university environment, in which the students, faculty, and staff can communicate and share information at any time, regardless of location.

Distance Education has traversed four to five 'generations' of technology in its history. These are print, audio/video broadcasting, audio/video teleconferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/ online-learning, computer broadcasting/pod casting etc. Yet the radio remains a very viable form, especially in the developing nations, because of its reach. 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.

In short then, though a range of technology presupposes a distance education 'inventory' it is technological appropriateness and connectivity, such as computer, or for that matter electrical connectivity that should be considered, when we think of the world as a whole, while fitting in technological applications to distance education.