Distance Learning & Online Education


Distance learning has become increasingly popular as more people need to continue working to fund their education. Read on as to how you can make distance learning work for you.

In distance learning terms, we have just seen yet another anniversary for The Open University, which means online education must still be big business. With sites everywhere now advocating online learning, distance learning courses and virtually every topic known to man, there's something in it!

Since the establishment of the Open University, more than 2 million people have studied through the institution, and the O.U. has become a pioneer of distance education and a beacon for accessible learning.

Where Did It All Begin?

When Harold Wilson announced the plans to launch the first "wall-less" university, such access to higher education was unheard of in the United Kingdom. Today, however, elearning programmes (also know as distance learning by many) are increasing in popularity, appearing alongside traditional university courses at institutions up and down the country, alongside blended learning courses that involve the combination of traditional lectures with significant integration of online resources.

The History Of Distance Learning

However, the concept of distance learning is nothing new, and was well established long before the arrival of The Open University. In fact, the University of London was the first accredited university to offer distance learning degrees, via its External Programme established in 1858, and shorthand courses were taught via post in the US as early as the 1700s.

Open Learning is one of the new generation of distance education providers and is offering genuine distance learning courses, where all exams and tutorials are undertaken online, whilst retaining the social interactivity between peers and tutors that forms a vital part of the traditional educational model.

What Does Distance Learning Involve?

Distance learning has traditionally involved correspondence conducted by mail, sending out books or CD-ROMs, or using radio or television to broadcast materials. While these innovations have given the student a richer and more convenient learning experience, they have failed to address one of the fundamental factors behind effective learning i.e.. 'face time', and this lack of "face time" with peers and tutors has historically been cited as one of the major reasons why many students struggle with distance learning.

Virtual Learning Environments

New systems include Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), which are integrated online learning platforms that facilitate the management of educational courses for both students and teachers. The VLE replicates a real classroom environment with a tutor and class of students, by using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online technologies that facilitate both real-time conversations whilst retaining the flexibility demanded by students.

According to Kaplan Open Learning's Head Of Marketing, The Virtual Learning Environment offers the benefits of distance learning without the drawbacks: "It provides students with the flexibility to attend classes and study from anywhere: work, home and on the move. Our system is designed to track and manage the learning process in real-time and it provides students with immediate access to learning materials."

Where To Next?

With the growing number of online degree courses and developing e-Learning technologies, the legacy of the OU and the University of London can still be seen. Kaplan Open Learning and others like them are pushing the development and accessibility of further education for adults and young people during a time when independence, skills and knowledge are arguably even more desirable for prospective employers than they were 40 years ago.

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