An introduction to distance education

By Rob Taylor

Most people know what online education is - you take classes, do assignments and interact with your instructors over the Internet and World Wide Web. But what is distance learning?

After some research, I found out that distance learning is any kind of organized course of study that takes place outside the traditional classroom, often with an emphasis on individual or independent study. Online education is a part of distance education.

Distance education may also take the form of print material and one-on-one conversations with instructors. Texts and workbooks may be bought from the school and sent to the students or they may buy what they need locally. Assignments might be sent in the mail or there may be no traditional assignments as we think of them.

In some distance learning programs, an instructor may come to the students, either visiting a place of employment to teach a class or teaching a class in a rented room in the community.

Video is another way that distance education may take place. Videocassettes may be distributed to students or groups of students as a way for them to receive instruction.

At one time, the University of Toronto opened up its Scarborough campus as a way to use video to teach classes. It was to be a true 'satellite campus' with video from classes taking place in the school's downtown campus fed into the classes of the Scarborough campus through rows of televisions. This idea was abandoned early, but it is a good example of distance education.

CD-ROMs can be used as another method of online education, in a similar way to videocassettes, but with more interactivity. Before the Internet was widely available, CD-ROMs were a very popular tool. In fact, I learned how to use Microsoft Word from a CD-ROM tutorial.

And of course, there are distance education courses that use a combination of all these methods.

So now that you (and I) know what distance education is, maybe you'd like to take a distance education course. And when your grandparents talk about how they had to walk 50 kilometres in the snow with no shoes on, while being attacked by abominable snowmen, just to get to school, you can smile and think about that class you're going to take in the comfort of your own home. All snowman-free. Unless you are a snowman, and then you probably wouldn't mind so much.

Modified on April 23, 2009