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Education has a new magic bullet. It is called "DISTANCE LEARNING" and the Internet mainly delivers it.


Distance learning is a new term for what used to be called correspondence courses, I have been involved with this type of learning as both a student and an instructor, I took a correspondence course from a western university in 1976 dealing with rural sociology, and have been instructor of distance learning based general sociology, social problems, and medical sociology since 1992 here at my institution.

My school has been involved in correspondence, courses by radio, by newspaper, and now by Internet and by mail. Recent articles in NEWSWEEK, TIME, US NEWS, and BUSINESS WEEK suggest that many colleges and universities are moving toward some type of guided self-study or any time/anywhere classes.

BUSINESS WEEK (1999) leads with a headline of: "How the web is revolutionizing learning."

Critics maintain that they are easier than classroom courses. My research in this area COLLEGE STUDENT JOURNAL (1999) INSTRUCTIONAL PSYCHOLOGY (1999) COMMUNITY COLLEGE WEEK (1999), suggest that this is not the case. They are just as rigorous.

USA TODAY (2000) is going to follow a high school class that will all be online through the entire 4 years. I don't know what the outcome will be. However, what we have discovered here is that the successful distant learner is more likely to be an alternative (non-traditional) student which means over 21, organized, self motivated person. For others, the classroom is the better alternative.

Some strategies of distance learning such as showing a person lecture for 50 minutes on tape are probably not likely to succeed.

Erbe (2000) suggests that if the class is interactive and requires that the student respond to various questions and discussions that this strategy (with numerous bells and whistles) may be useful.

Another possibility, is that each student have a spy cam turned on them as they are tied into the course. Their verbal responses can be part of the discussion in a chat room or through e-mails. However, the system does not allow for students to learn at anytime or anywhere. Some students can really only study on the weekends. Some can fit their learning only in certain times, which may not be the same time as the class that originates from some campus.

We have discovered that one of the most successful alternatives for distant learners are low-tech courses in which there are at least 2 textbooks (one to replace the classroom experience) and the use of letters, phone, and e-mail. Still, we have found that this strategy still has a number of people that simply never start even if they are called and prodded into working. In other words, the face-to-face classroom is their best alternative.


What I believe that we will see in the future is that distant learning of all types will flourish, but that schools should not shut down their parking lots and classrooms. For many, the human face-to-face contact is essential. The face-to face provides structure that may not be found on the most highly sophisticated Internet class.

Even with the spy cam targeted at the learner, one is not sure if they are "there" and are concentrating on the material or "there" in body only. It is not out of the paradigm to suggest that some students may create an artificial tape or persona to give the impression that they are in the class, when in reality they are fast asleep, involved in amorous activities with a significant other, out shopping, at work, or other non-academic activity. See U.S. NEWS (2000.)

Technology can create boundaries, and some cyber learners can find ways to break those boundaries. It is an old story that is replayed generation after generation.


Becker, Gary S (1999) How the web is revolutionizing learning, BUSINESS WEEK December 27, 40.

Erble, Bonnie (2000) Distance learning is getting nearer, SIOUX CITY JOURNAL June 22, A-6.

Snell, Joel and Saul Mekies (1999) On-line education and academic rigor INSTRUCITONAL PSYCHOLOGY, September, 194-195.

Snell, Joel, Allen, Linda, and Saul Mekies Distant learning, web sites, and accreditation, COLLEGE STUDENT JOURNAL, June, 318-320.

Snell, Joel (1999) Survey validates rigor of distance learning, COMMUNITY COLLEGE WEEK, January 25, 1999.

Thomas, Karen (2000) One school's quantum leap: in Florida, a class of 2004, will do all it's learning online, USA TODAY, April, 6th, 1-5.

Wildavsky, Ben (2000) At least they have high self esteem, U.S. News&World Report, February, 7th, 50.
Kirkwood College
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Publication:College Student Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001

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