Distance learning is a learning method that has gained wide popularity from its humble beginnings and is currently on course to dominate the future education practices. Exponential growth in the technologies related to communication, multimedia, information processing as well as changing dynamics or the roles played by teachers and students have lead to this popularity and it already has proved to be a never ending science of pedagogic practice.
From its earliest roots in the 19th century when the postal service was established, the modern day distance learning had grown from strength to strength. But, the most powerful leap forward took place following the developments made in the field of computer technology and communication, more specifically, the internet.
Distance learning is the conduct of educational activities while the students and the teachers are divided from time, place or else in both modalities. This is to say that, in a distance education programme, both the students and the teachers need not be in one place nor need them to interact at the same time. But, the possibility of interacting at the same time and in a single location is kept open.
Distance learning began by sending course material through mail to a prospective student and the student replying to it through the same mode. This not only took so much time, but also did not promote much of interaction and was limited in its ability to cater to different kinds of learning styles as well as knowledge domains.
When the computer systems became a commodity and was able to handle quality multimedia, it became apparent that using such technologies can enhance the teaching potential through distance learning, as well as making the students to interact more in innovative multimedia based learning environments. Sending of digital learning material through a CD, cassette or else in a diskette was probably the earliest modes of sending course content in digitally based distance learning programmes.
But, with the developments that took place in the internet as well as following it became a cheap commodity to everyone, distance educators were quick to grab the opportunity and at present, distance learning without mentioning the internet had become rarity.
When using the internet, a virtual learning environment will give the student the feeling of being in an educational setting and would allow them to learn through the available content which is arranged according to sound pedagogic practice. Many instructional design principles are being incorporated in designing such courses which has made the distance learning to achieve the highest order cognition among its learners and to have at least the same level of educational development among the traditional and distance learning students.
In the modern day distance learning, the students can engage in asynchronous type of learning through posted educational material such as digital documents, videos, audios, images, simulators, discussion boards…etc and could also link up real time by means of teleconferencing and video conferencing if the course permits. Some of the distance courses are geared to traditional learning concepts such as face-to-face learning and they take wing as ‘blended’ or ‘hybrid’ learning programmes, which seems to be a highly effective way of delivering course content.
The development of web 2.0 technologies have made the distance learning a ultra efficient learning experience with newer concepts such as blogs, wikis, forums, chatting, social networking…etc and incorporating 3D technologies along with virtual reality is rapidly replacing the isolation faced by the distance education students which has been recognized as one of the weaknesses in this teaching method.