History and Theories of Distance Education

Distance education is a formal approach in teaching and learning process where the learning instructions are given while the learner and the instructor are not in each other’s physical presence. It is a process of creating and providing the access to learning where the information source and the receiver, who is the learner, are in separate places. Distance education is also referred to as distance learning. Many scholars have tried to define what is meant by the term distance education. However, most of their definitions revolve around advancement in technology. Most learning institutions have adopted this form of learning, and they are realizing great success in disseminating knowledge to learners, who are very far even in other continents. In this essay, we are going see the history of the distance education, its development and theories.

Distance education is a mixture of various forms of educational acts which have undergone various stages for a long period of time.It has included older education forms such as adult education, education by correspondence, open learning anti-authoritarian education, part-time education, lifelong learning counseling and many more. Distance education is more linked to the total freedom of choice when it comes to the way it is carried out in communicating the information.

- +

Distance learning process usually takes place in two forms of technologies; we have the synchronous and the asynchronous technologies. The synchronous technology is a mode of delivery where by all the parties are present at the same time more like the traditional mode of classroom teaching. This happens despite the fact that the parties that are involved are being located remotely. There are time tables which are followed by this mode. Examples of this mode of technology are the web conferencing and video conferencing.

The asynchronous technology is a mode of delivery where the parties or learners access the course information just on their own schedule; therefore, it is more flexible than the synchronous one. In this mode of delivery, students are not required to be together. Examples of this mode of delivery are mail correspondence, message board forums, e-mail audio recording, voicemail print materials and fax. However, for effective delivery of the information of the course, all modes can be combined.

The history of distance education is a bit long because it is rooted in the 18th century. Therefore, it is not a new form of learning, but it is an old form although the advancement in technology has modified it to appear to be new way of learning. In 19th century, several activities in U.S. in adult education triggered the emergency of the distance education. Anna Ticknor pioneered in creating the society that encouraged the distance learning to be carried out at home by women. She encouraged this to enable those women who did not access the formal education during their childhood take the studies at free time when they even attend to other duties at home. This was facilitated by using the correspondence printed materials which provided the instructions. This was the main way of communication, teaching and learning. In fact, Cornell University was established as the headquarters of the correspondence.

The use of correspondence studies became popular and grew faster, and was accepted for its effectiveness by various institutions in U.S. and around the globe. The year 1915 saw the creation of the Nation University Extension Association, and its main aim was to focus on the issues such as laying up of national and international guidelines to govern the distance education.  This organization was also responsible for drawing policies regarding the acceptance of credit resulting from the corresponding courses, transfer of credit and the quality standards for correspondence teachers.

In the years between World War I and II, the federal government gave the radio broadcasting licenses to many colleges and Universities to use them for instruction in the learning and teaching process. The use of radio in the learning process contributed a lot to the development of distance education during the 20th century. More emphasis was put on advancing the distance education since most institutions such as labor unions, navy, army, banking associations, state and national welfare associations developed due to this program of distance education. In 1960s and ‘70s, there were a number of alternatives developed on traditional higher education in the US.

Britain’s Open University came up with a new vision of independence for distance education as separate from the tradition education. It became the largest and a more innovative education organization in the whole world. The goodness of the Open Universities is that they not only overcome the restrictions of place and time, but they also do away with the boundaries of nations. Therefore, anybody can access education from a learning institution which is far from where he/she comes from in a convenient way.

In the last two decades, with technological advancement, distance education has become more accessible for those students who are interested in furthering their studies in foreign institutions.  The capability of the modern technologies to link the education institutions to work places, homes and the entire community has really promoted adult education. In fact, it has enabled those people who had terminated their education during the youthful stage to continue their studies to realize their dreams. Other people have used the chance of distance education to change their careers to more profitable ones.

There are about three distance education theories that have been postulated by theoritians. These theories are theory of autonomy and independence, theory of industrialization and the theory of interaction and communication. These categories are grouped according to their main concepts. However, in all cases, they asserted the learner’s independence. The theory of autonomy and independence was postulated by Charles Wedemeyer and Michael Moore. Wedemeyer, who was a proponent of distance learning, stressed the individual freedoms which he believed that distance learning confers. He argued that distance learning and modern technologies give equal access to personal independence and autonomy.

Moore on the other hand, thought that the concept of distance learning should be taken to be a multidimensional concept. He suggests that geographical distance is not quite important. He proposed two major concepts in the theory of learning. He defined a structure as a measure of the educational programs responsive to the learners’ personal needs. The structure meant the design of the instructional programs while dialogue meant the interaction through the communication between the instructor and the receiver who is the learner.

The second theory of distance learning is the industrialization which was put forward by the Otto peters. He argued that distance education is quite different from the traditional face to face education. He said it is different because it results from industrialization of teaching and learning. According to him, the objection of the teaching processes is due to the industrialization of distance learning. He argues that distance education has drifted away from the interpersonal communication which at the center of face to face education to the rationalized objectified and technological interaction. His work emphasizes the structural differences and he separates it from the conventional forms of face to face teaching.

Lastly, we have the theory of interaction and communication which was put forward by Holmberg. The central part of his argument is the concept of guided boring conversation which he argues that it is now the main bad characteristic of distance education. On his case, he proposes that teaching and communication are more equally important areas of concern when carrying out research about the effectiveness of distance education.

In conclusion, distance education has a long history which is rooted majorly in 19th century. It started just as an alternative and a primitive way of learning, but through the modification and the technological advancement, it is has played a very important role in boosting the dissemination of knowledge. In the current times, learning institutions have adopted this mode of teaching and learning which has even promoted integration of education policies among nations and also has elevated the international understanding.


You may find it interesting: