01 Thumbnail The Evolution of Distance Learning

Edward F. Spodick
Hong Kong University of Science & Technology Library
Presented August, 1995 - links updated 31 January, 1996

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2. Who Needs / Uses Distance Education

03 Thumbnail Before examining the tools available and under construction for the distance education market, it is important to understand what that market is, and how it is developing. Over 300,000 people are engaged in distance education in the United States alone (Chadwick 1995).

2.1 Adult learning In the past, most distance education focused on adult learners, especially in rural districts. The largest use was for "short courses to help farmers and small businesses adapt to new technologies" (Fulton 1992). This remains the most common usage worldwide. Estimates of the number of distance learners in China range from one to two million. Other adult-oriented programs include the entire Open University in the UK, and extensive programs from Norway to South Africa. (Distance/Faraway 1995) In recent years, complete post-secondary degree programs have begun to appear.

2.2 K-12 Education The most rapidly-growing distance learning sector is the pre-university age group - what in the U.S. is referred to as K-12. This is usually in the "form of curriculum enrichment modules and ongoing telecommunications projects" (Sherry 1994) This is an exploding market, and Universities are increasingly providing advanced course programs for middle school students ¯ courses for which there is not enough demand at their local school to allocate the resources, but which can prove profitable when made available to students at all of the area K-12 schools.

2.3 Disabled and Homebound Individuals who cannot easily travel, including senior citizens and the disabled, are natural candidates for distance education. Some people also may not be able to physically manipulate the technologies required ¯ a situation which will worsen as technologies evolve, unless specific action is taken to reduce the problems. Devices exist to alleviate physical barriers, and need to be incorporated in instructional designs.

2.4 Non-Native Language Speakers Increasing population migration has led to a growth in the numbers of people in all areas who are non-native language speakers, and who are unable to comprehend the classes normally on offer. (Day 1994)

2.5 Shift from Industrial to International Service Sector Economy 1956 saw the number of white-collar workers in the U.S. surpassing the number of blue-collar workers. By 1987, over 50% of the labor force in the U.S. could be categorized as "information workers." (Baker 1994) This has contributed to a number of factors which must be considered:

All of these developments are also leading to a growing social acceptance of distance education.


Go Back 1. Introduction / What is Distance Education?
Go Forward 3. Changing Needs / Roles of Providers


last revised 5 March, 1996
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