The history and promise of distance education

Terry Anderson in his presentation in Brazil about Distance Education: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow tells of the evolution and promise of education. He recounts the generation of distance education (DE) ending with a 4th generation being developed from interactive software and networked worlds accessible by the common desktop computer. Each generation has been distinct  in its own way and not always sharing the “same epistemological, cultural, discipline, economic values and practices” (slide 12). He graphs the evolution of educational media along the lines of its interactivity and independence of time and space.  

He shares the history of distance education as it was in Britain and Canada higher education institutes and looks at cohort and self-paced models for delivering DE. That latter is deemed as a new model gives learners options and develops them as a lifelong learner. Another view is from the theories of media enhanced learning and includes the presentational view, the performance-tutoring view and the epistemic-engagement view. The first has students passively watching the instruction, the second is guided hands-on instruction, and the third actively involves the learner in negotiating his/her learning.

At this point in the history of DE the issues are about “interaction and independence; self paced versus cohorts; blended learning versus distance education; scale versus efficiency; dropout versus retention; and theories of learning” (slide 30). Current research areas are about cost effectiveness, blending course formats, continuous enrolment model, and social software and Web2.0 affordances. There is also evolving discussions about open educational resources (OERs). It has been found distance education and classroom instruction are essentially equal and interaction in DE is important. Following from Moore’s distinction of interactions (student/teacher/content), Anderson hypothesizes that high levels of one interaction will produce satisfying levels of learning and student-content interaction might be more time and cost effective.

He sees the future of distance education as able a venue for many forms of education and one that moves towards informal learning and accreditation. More so, DE will increase access, decrease costs of formal education and enhance lifelong learning.

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