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Distance education: an overview.

Distance education was defined by educational theorist Michael Moore as: "The family of instructional methods in which the teaching behaviors are executed apart from the learning behaviors ... so that communication between the learner and the teacher must be facilitated by print, electronic, mechanical, or other devices" (Moore, 1972: 76).

Distance education is not new, and can be traced as far back as the first century. The Apostle Paul taught to the early Christian churches from his prison cell. This may have been the first type of 'correspondence course.' Today, distance education calls upon a wide range of technologies to enable teachers and students who are separated by distance to communicate with each other either in real time (synchronous) or delayed time (asynchronous). A new term, 'distributed learning' has been coined to try to describe the many forms of technology supported learning that are currently being practiced worldwide.

Distributed Learning Strategies, which include distance education, offer a radical new direction for education. It incorporates flexible and open learning methods as well as customized learning resources. It also allows the incorporation of the best practices of the traditional approaches to learning.

This model enables the delivery of courses and learning materials to students studying at locations distant to the institution. Hence, the term 'flexible and open distance learning' or FODL has been coined to describe the means by which learners can access education and learning opportunities at a time/pace to suit their individual lifestyles, learning preferences and personal development plans.

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Within rapid technological changes and constantly shifting industry conditions, the world's education systems are challenged with providing increased educational opportunities without increased budgets. Many educational institutions and training programs are answering this challenge by developing a distance education curriculum. At its most basic level, distance education takes place when a teacher and student(s) are separated by physical distance, and technology (i.e., voice, video, data, and print). Often this is in concert with traditional face-to-face communication and is used to bridge the instructional gap. These types of programs can provide students with continued education especially those disadvantaged by limited time, distance or physical disability, as well as to update the knowledge base of healthcare worker at their place of employment. In the case of Allied Health Professionals, such as those in a sleep lab or respiratory care department, it may well be the only available method to obtain further education in an affordable manor.

Some definitions from well-known distance education (DE) programs and educators are:

* The California Distance Learning Project: "Distance Learning is an instructional delivery system which connects learners with educational resources. DL provides educational access to learners not enrolled in educational institutions and can augment the learning opportunities of current students. The implementation of DL is a process which uses available resources and will evolve to incorporate emerging technologies."

* From a 1995 article on the Distance Learning Resource Network (DLRN) Web site: "Distance Education is instructional delivery that does not constrain the student to be physically present in the same location as the instructor. Historically, Distance Education meant correspondence study. Today, audio, video, and computer technologies are more common delivery modes."

* From Distance Education: A Consumer's Guide: "Distance education is instruction that occurs when the instructor and student are separated by distance, time, or both. Distance Learning (DL) is a directed system or a process connecting learners with remote resources. DL can be the primary or supplemental means of learning. The delivery of education through electronically mediated instruction including satellite, video, audio graphic, computer, multimedia technology and other forms of learning at a distance.

The United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) notes that distance education refers to teaching and learning situations in which the instructor and the learner or learners are geographically separated and therefore rely on electronic devices and print materials for instructional delivery. Distance Education includes distance teaching--the instructor's role in the process; and distance learning--the student's role in the process.

Distance education is education designed for students who live at a distance from the teaching institution or education provider. It is the enrollment and study with an educational institution that provides organized, formal learning opportunities for students. Presented in a logical order, the instruction is offered primarily by distance study, through virtually any media. Historically, its main medium of instruction has been printed materials, although non-print media is becoming more and more popular. It may also make use of videotapes, CD or DVD ROM's, audio recordings, fax, telephone, and the Internet through e-mail and Web-based delivery systems. When each lesson or segment is completed, the student makes available to the school the assigned work for correction, grading, and subject matter guidance by qualified instructors. This exchange fosters a personalized student-instructor relationship, which is the hallmark of distance education instruction.

Historically, most distance education courses were vocational in nature, but today courses are offered for academic, professional, and avocational purposes for students of all ages. Distance education is becoming available in practically any allied health field.

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DE courses also vary in scope, level, and length. Some have a few assignments and require only a few days to complete, while others have dozens of assignments requiring months of study.

Some students who have enjoyed DE programs include such notable personalities as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Walter P. Chrysler, Walter Cronkite, Barry Goldwater, Charles Schulz, and others.

With the computer and modem the classrooms and ivy-covered walls of our present-day colleges and training centers are becoming artifacts of education "as it used to be." What we call "non-traditional" today because it is delivered through various distance learning technologies (computer, videotape, CD-ROM, correspondence etc.) will become the preferred delivery system for education here in the 21st century. You are wise to consider distance education as part of your curriculum choices. It is cheaper, more convenient, and in many cases more meaningful for students than traditional classroom-based education. Often in non-traditional education the learners have more to say about what they learn and how they learn it. They will often be working one-on-one with their faculty mentors.

In the months to come I will present a series of articles related to education. These articles will discuss the education practices of today as well as the future of education. It is clear that those institutions offering one or more avenues of distance learning TODAY will have the competitive edge. Those that are not offering distance learning will see their classrooms empty TOMORROW. We as allied health professionals are always students and there are increasing options for our education choices. Among these choices is the ability to select a mix of classroom and distance learning. It is my hope to expose us all to the variety of options available to us both as learners and educators.

by Joseph Anderson, RPSGT, RRT
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Title Annotation:EDUCATION
Author:Anderson, Joseph
Publication:FOCUS: Journal for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:1132
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