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Removing the Distance in Learning
Education is the most important agent of change in any society. But for most developing countries like Nigeria, education is a distant dream for many of their citizens. One of the options being used by many nations to make this dream a reality is distance education. Some call it distance learning. Others prefer e-learning. What is distance learning? What does it entail? A simple definition might be: teaching and learning at a distance. But does that tell the whole story?
AT & T uses this definition: Distance learning is a directed system or process connecting learners with remote resources. Distance Learning can be the primary or supplemental means of learning.
For distance education to exist, teachers and students must be separated by physical distance. It is in this light that correspondence courses can be regarded as the earliest forms of distance learning. In distance education, learning and teaching is not done in the same place unlike traditional face-to-face classroom learning. Distance learning is a planned form of education that uses technology to bridge the distance gap. Technologies used include: print, voice, video and data.
There are 2 main systems of education delivery via distance learning: synchronous and asynchronous. With the synchronous system, there is simultaneous interaction of learners and teachers. Video conferencing is a good example of this mode of instruction.
With the asynchronous mode, there is no need for simultaneous interaction. In this mode learners access instructional materials when it is convenient for them. Obviously the asynchronous system is more flexible than the synchronous one. Is it better? That depends entirely on the learner's needs.
Whichever form is used, distance learning does not require the student and the teacher to be physically present in the same location.
As mentioned previously, technology is a key component in achieving effective distance learning. But we should never the mistake of making technology the key focus. So what technology needs to be deployed to achieve set objectives? At this juncture, it must be emphasized that the focus of any educational enterprise should be effective learning by students. It is very easy to get carried away by technology. If you have the best technology but your students can't cut the grade, what is the value of your technology? Technology is key but not the focus. This is simple enough to remember but many still get it wrong. So apart focusing on the needs of the learners, what should also guide your technology choice? Delivery technology must be appropriate to content requirements. You can't achieve much with print technology only if the content demands computer usage. Technology must also be appropriate for the teachers as well. It follows that technology needs to be cost-effective.
At this stage, we still need to ask why distance learning? How will it remove the distance in education? E-learning, distance learning, online education is a child of the world we find ourselves in. Existing educational facilities cannot meet the new world learning challenge. Furthermore, education worldwide is seriously under funded. How can Nigeria with its growing population provide educational opportunities for the many without access within budget constraints? The permanent cry of current universities is that of under funding and of course the quality of education is degrading constantly.
The major objective of distance learning is to increase access to education. Rather than the current narrow circle, let education reach a wider audience within the populace. Education has been called the great equalizer, but more than that it is the great harbinger of development. Distance education is used to increase the number of non-traditional students that are currently out of the traditional education system.
This is by providing educational opportunities for individuals that are outside the formal education loop. Many in this category are those who want to learn while working. They may be unable to attend on-campus classes. This way, they can keep their jobs and at the same time, develop their knowledge and skills. Some workers may be interested in obtaining a degree to qualify for a better job. Others may need the degree as they didn't complete their formal education.
Programs are also for those who might not be reached without distance education. This refers to making learning available to students in rural areas.
With the use of modern and current technologies like the Internet, distance learning facilitates the interaction of learners and teachers from all over the world. These are people from different social, cultural, and economic, backgrounds - the school of the global village. These interactions definitely provide more opportunities than the formal education system. When coupled with tools and resources for learning and teaching on the Internet, learning process is given a tremendous boost. Indeed, learning via computers is now a contemporary way of accessing information and education.
In conclusion while distance learning is needed, we should never forget the core aims: increasing education access to the populace and satisfying the learning needs of students. It is only with an educated populace that a nation can meet the challenges of tomorrow, ensure progress and create wealth.
Jide Awe is the Founder of Jidaw.com (http://www.jidaw.com)
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Dec 197, 2006
Temi J.from Abuja, Nigeria. says:
Thanks for the clarity. But a lot depends on leadership and investmg by government. Thanks.
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