What is Distance Learning?

“Distance learning” — also called “e-learning” — is a catch-all designation for any kind of educational relationship carried out remotely through electronic communication.

Although distance learning programs aren’t available from all traditional schools (yet), there are many accredited colleges that do award degrees for online study. Some schools, like University of Phoenix, have physical campuses and an extensive distance education presence; other schools operate exclusively in cyberspace.

What is Distance Learning and Where Did it Come From?

Distance education has evolved in parallel with the evolution of technology. Here is a brief look:

  • In the early 20th century, distance learning had its roots in correspondence courses delivered via snail mail.
  • The proliferation of television in the mid-20th century brought with it the “telecourse” concept.
  • The rise of audio (cassette tapes and CDs) and visual (videocassettes and DVDs) multimedia material, enhanced distance learning details.
  • Personal computers permitted the use of interactive software and CD-ROM materials that surpassed previous knowledge delivery systems.

Now that the Internet is so widespread, distance learning has evolved again with online degree programs. Delivering and accessing audio, video and printed course materials has never been faster or easier.

Advantages of Distance Learning

The advantages of earning a degree onlineare numerous, but chief among these is flexibility: You study when you want to, at your own pace. Convenience, savings and accelerated courses also count as benefits of an online degree program.

Ever since it was practical to deliver educational materials to those who could not be present in a classroom, distance learning has fulfilled that need. Speed and convenience are high priorities in everyone’s lives, and online education has risen to meet that challenge while remaining true to the century-old spirit of distance learning: to better oneself through education.

Newer Developments in Distance Learning

More colleges and universities are offering courses and entire degree programs through various methods of distance learning. Following in the footsteps of Princeton and MIT, for instance, in late 2006, Yale University became the latest Ivy League college to offer some of its courses online. (The bad news: They can’t be used as credit toward a degree. The good news: The lecture videos, syllabi and transcripts for Yale’s seven online courses can be downloaded for free.)

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