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Education in which students take academic courses by accessing information and

communicating with the instructor asynchronously over a computer network

Distance education, or distance learning, is a field of education that focuses on the

pedagogy, technology, and instructional system designs that aim to deliver education to
students who are not physically "on site" in a traditional classroom or campus.

It has been described as "a process to create and provide access to learning when the
source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both."[1] In
other words, distance learning is the process of creating an educational experience of
equal quality for the learner to best suit their needs outside the classroom. Distance
education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason (including
taking examinations) is considered a hybrid or blended course of study.

The terms open learning and distance education represent approaches that focus
on opening access to education and training provision, freeing learners from
the constraints of time and place, and offering flexible learning opportunities
to individuals and groups of learners.

A type of education, typically college-level, where students work on their own at home or
at the office and communicate with faculty and other students via e-mail, electronic
forums, videoconferencing, chat rooms, bulletin boards, instant messaging and other
forms of computer-based communication.

A flexible approach to a course of study that allows individuals to learn at a time, place,
and pace to suit their needs. A typical open learning program might offer the student a
variety of delivery methods, including tutorials, workshops, formal lectures, and the
Internet, supported by a variety of learning materials such as textbooks, workbooks, and
video, audio, and computer-based materials.

Open Distance Learning (ODL) is considered nowadays as the most viable means for
broadening educational access while improving the quality of education, advocating peer-
to-peer collaboration and giving the learners a greater sense of autonomy and
responsibility for learning (Calvert, 2006).

Greenberg (1998) defines contemporary distance learning as “a planned teaching/learning

experience that uses a wide spectrum of technologies to reach learners at a distance and is
designed to encourage learner interaction and certification of learning”

Teaster and Blieszner (1999) say “the term distance learning has been applied to many
instructional methods: however, its primary distinction is that the teacher and the learner
are separate in space and possibly time”
Desmond Keegan (1995) gives the most thorough definition. He says that distance
education and training result from the technological separation of teacher and learner
which frees the student from the necessity of traveling to “a fixed place, at a fixed time,
to meet a fixed person, in order to be trained”


a) Teaching vs. learning

There is a new vision developed during the past 15-20 years, strongly influenced by the
social and cognitive sciences. The educational system is now focused on learning rather
than on teaching. The developments of learning theory have changed the nature of
learning and the perception of the learner. Knowledge is considered as "socially
constructed through action, communication and reflection involving learners." (Pea,
1992:77). In addition, the classical view of teaching as telling or delivering curricula has
turned into "modelling expert practice, and promoting learning conversations that
negotiate meaning to promote change in learner concepts and strategies toward proficient
performances." (ibidem). For instance, teachers then will gradually become advisors,
managers and facilitators of learning rather than providers of information (Bates, 1993).
Necessarily, distance education has been involved by this evolution.

One can obviously find the trail of this general evolution in the terminology used. For
instance, in French we used to speak about "enseignement à distance" but we now speak
about "formation à distance" or "apprentissage à distance". The same change could be
found in the English expressions: "distance learning" has replaced "distance education".
Finally, the european terminology reflects the same change. The title of the EEC report
SEC (91) 897 was "Enseignement supérieur ouvert et à distance dans la communauté
européenne" whereas the one of the famous "Memorandum" is "Memorandum sur
l'apprentissage ouvert et à distance dans la Communauté européenne". So we can say
that even the official approach of the EC reflects this evolution.

b) "Closed" distance learning vs. "open flexible" distance learning (OFDL)

In the frame of the TEMPUS european project initiated by the EEC, one of my colleagues
and I have made a study that compares two european distance universities: the
FernUniversität of Hagen (FU, Germany) and the Open Universiteit of Heerlen (OU, The
Netherlands) (Peraya, Haessig, 1993). The main difference between these two
universities can be defined by this opposition: "open university" vs. "closed university".
The FU tends to resemble classic German and European universities, limiting in principle
access to studies to only those students with a secondary school diploma. Contrary to that
model, the OU is, as its name indicates, a university open to any interested person over
18 independently of his or her qualifications. The OU philosophy is grounded on the
"four openness": access, curriculum and program, study organization and management,
duration and flexible timetabling.

Those two universities are proto-typical examples of the two different distance learning
institution types. Their features are the centre of an important debate both theoretical and

c) Full degree vs. qualifying

Why do the students learn? What do they wish? For instance, in the university context we
can show two main trends, related to two kinds of (re)training needs.

1. On one hand, students are interested in a complete curriculum to obtain a new

degree, a new diploma. Those students generally are engaged in the professional
life and they are working already: distance education is for them the only way to
begin - to pursue- a high level full degree curriculum. So, distance education
appears a "second chance education". For those students, assessments,
examinations, curriculum, and all the constraints that are those of a classical
university are important.
2. On the other hand, some students do want to acquire some new knowledge, a new
qualifying related to their professional practice. They are only interested either in
one matter or in one technical ability that they need for updating their
competencies or enhancing their professional practice.They then don't care much
for obtaining a diploma after a full degree curriculum. To be better qualified
seems to be their main, their only goal.

In the field of distance education, those two kinds of needs allow to trace a border-line
between two types of learning project that can be developed by two particular types of
institution and organization.

d) Teaching and research university vs. teaching university

What are the priorities of the distance education institutes? What is the respective
importance of research and teaching in each distance institution or university? In our
study mentioned above we analyse the official mission that the two universities are
intrusted with. One other main difference between those two universities lays in the
conception of the teacher role and his duties. The identification of the Fu with a classic
university model has as consequence the involvement of titular professors in fundamental
research as much as --if not more than -- in teaching. As to the OU, it is primarily
dedicated to teaching and broadcasting knowledge; research is thus an accessory activity
for its teachers.
The specificities of these general view points have repercussions not only on the
organizational forms of these institutions but especially on the methodology of designing
teaching documents.



Convenience: In this economy, it is difficult to take time away from work to further an
education towards a more secure future. An advantage of distance learning is that it
makes it possible for you to maintain employment without a conflict in schedule.
Distance learning allows students to attend class anytime day or night.

Availability: Another advantage of distance learning is that you are not limited to only
courses offered by local colleges. With personal responsibilities already in place,
attending schools at a greater distance away from home is not always an option. Distance
learning makes it possible to take almost any course from any higher learning institution.

Increased Resources: Distance learning not only provides advantages of broadening the
courses and programs available at your convenience, it also provides more opportunities
for feedback and interaction with instructors and fellow students. Since email and forums
are integral components of distance learning, interaction can all be done as needed – not
limited to class or campus time or playing phone tag and voicemail.

The course becomes an artifact (a videotape, Web site, set of archived

messages) and thus can be evaluated in detail and continually improved.

� The course is available at virtually any time or location and thus is accessible
to a far broader range of students.

� Students can learn at their own pace (and ideally in the sequence and
presentation medium they find most effective) thus improving the learning

From a student�s perspective

1. Students can learn at any time (before, during or after normal school hours, at
the desktop in the workplace, "just in time learning" for a particular task)
But some students need the structure of a specific class time

2. Students can learn at any place (in the traditional classroom, in a dorm room,
at home, at a convenient learning center, at work, on the road)

But some students need the psychological reinforcement of the traditional


3. Students can learn at their own pace, giving extra time to new material and
speeding through material already known, with pauses for tutorial help or
supplemental courses.

But some students need help in setting the pace.

4. Students can learn more efficiently when concepts are presented with multiple
media so students can select those which best assist their own understanding
and retention.

But multiple media require sophisticated technology which can fail at critical
points. In addition, some students feel the need for the authoritative, coordinating
voice of the instructor.

5. Students can learn only what they need to know, reinforcing both retention and
motivation learning and then applying individual modules of a course.

But some knowledge has little practical application in its early stages; this option
is effective in teaching word processing but not in teaching electronics or

6. The course content and course quality are constant; organizations can
document training coverage and student learning over a wide geographical or
temporal area.

But the course lacks the flexibility to respond to students' unexpected insights or

7. The course can be examined and improved. The entire course and the
students' interactions exist as an artifact independent of the instructor, open to
review by other educators and content experts.

But an effective course matches the presentation to the students' needs, and the
constantly changing student population is less accessible for analysis.

8. The need for costly, permanent teaching facilities is reduced; learning can take
place at home, in dorms and workplaces, or in temporary facilities.
But start-up costs for planning, production, and technology are much higher than
in traditional courses.

There are many positive advantages to distance learning. Students can learn at a time of
the day that suits them, and in whatever location they choose to do so. They are free to
work independently, and also have the support of a tutor and learning institute behind
them. There is a wide range of therapeutic subjects available, to choose from, and a vast
number of specialist learning providers able to offer the ideal course that fits the student’s

Gaining an extra qualification or two in your spare time, around work and family
commitments, becomes an attractive option when you have the luxury of being able to
decide how much time you spend working on a particular module. Working at your own
pace takes the pressure and strain out of learning and encourages a student to develop
their skills in a way they are comfortable doing. Learning only the things they need to
know will also keep the student more focused on their learning, and motivated to coa. If
you prefer to express yourself in writing rather than verbally, you may find doing a
distance learning university degree program more suited to you

b. Classes typically centered and focused on student responses and virtual discussion
rather than instructor-led lectures.

mplete the coursework.

One of the advantages of distance learning is the flexibility to study when you are free
from work and family. This is the biggest plus to this type of learning. You can plan a
schedule to study and work it around your present schedule. The class is available to you
when ever you are available to participate. You may pick the time you have open for

Another advantage would be the ability to work at your own pace. This helps people who
may need a little extra time understanding the subject that is being studied. Even thought
you are learning online, some individuals are faster at learning than others, so this type of
learning allows you be at the same point as others or you may be ahead. You have the
ability to go back and repeat the segment you are having trouble understanding.

One more advantage would be the discussion boards. Some people are not comfortable
with speaking up in public, thus making the discussion boards easier to communicate in
asking questions and getting the answers you need. Discussion boards can be accessed at
any time. Many students fine this a big plus. You can go back and find answers if you
forget the subject of the question and answer.

Deadlines: As with any course, there are deadlines to be met. Because you aren’t
attending a scheduled class, deadlines may get away from you. This can be a
disadvantage of distance learning if you aren’t good with time management.

Studying: It may be difficult to find enough online time without interruption since you’ll
be attending class at home. Instructors provide a syllabus so you should be able to create
a schedule around the course schedule. You may need to make arrangements with a sitter
or spouse to watch the kids plus remember to turn off the TV and the phone.

Testing: Testing may need to be supervised or timed online to keep you honest,
especially for the final exam. Your instructor will make arrangements with local
educators or provide you with timed online tests so you can’t rely on using your text book
to pass. If you live close to the school, you may be required to take the exam at the
testing center. You’ll need to be sure to spend as much time studying as you would
learning in the traditional way, but there may be more distractions.

Interaction: Discussion board posts and replies are usually included in the course
requirements. Sometimes, you must interact in a forum discussion during a set time so
you may interact with your instructor in real time. Again, you need to be able to manage
your time to be available without distractions.

Learning Style: Another disadvantage to distance learning is that the course may not
include instruction for the auditory or visual learner. If there are lecture and supplemental
videos included, then it may work for your learning style. Be sure to check the
instructor’s style to teaching before you decide on the course. The course may be offered
by more than one instructor – each of whom may have different teaching styles.

Although distance learning has many obvious advantages, there are also disadvantages to
this method of furthering your education. Learning in a home environment can be just as
distracting and challenging as working in a classroom alongside other students. Home
learning also requires that the student self-motivates, which can be difficult to maintain
over a period of time. Although you may have an allocated tutor contact may be minimal,
so feedback will be restricted to notes concerning submitted coursework.

Many students work better around other people, as this form of stimulus encourages the
exploration of ideas. Distance learning means that a student becomes responsible for
finding their own stimulus, and for creating their own structure to their learning periods.
Self-discipline may also prove an issue.

c. You must be highly disciplined and self-motivated to study at your own convenience.

d. Learning online could cause you to feel detached and give you a sense that you are
missing out on a true campus experience.
The disadvantage to online learning is that, not all people have self discipline. You can
avoid school for the week and fall way behind. This makes learning even harder when
trying to get caught up with the class. You have to make a set plan and stick to it. This is
sometimes very hard for people who like to put things off.

Another disadvantage in some cases is that you are not always able to talk to a teacher if
you need help. This can be very frustrating if you are not able to understand the material
being studied. When taking the online course you are the only one in the class.
Some people may need the interaction with other students, making this another
disadvantage to online learning.


• Calvert, J.(2006) "Achieving Development Goals - Foundations : Open and

Distance Learning, Lessons and Issues". Retrieved June 6 2006, from

• Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit Oy.

• Parkes, R. J. (2000a). On the Subject of Pedagogies : Contributions of Vygotskian

Theory to Radical Pedagogy as a Postmodern Practice, proceedings of Annual
Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE),
Sydney University, December 4-7, 2000

• Wenger, E., McDermott, R., Snyder W.M. (2002) Cultivating Communities of

Practice, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 284 p., ISBN 1-57851-330-8.