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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3. Changing Needs / Roles of Providers

04 Thumbnail The changes in demographics of distance learners are tightly interrelated to the changes being experienced by education providers. These are changes which are expected to dramatically increase in intensity.

3.1 Increasing Rate of Technological Change The rapidity of technological development has an enormous impact on distance education, and educational needs are providing much of the direction for end products. Tools for distance learning must be flexible and adaptable for a variety of different needs and situations ¯ including their own obsolescence, where possible.

Most importantly from an institutional viewpoint, the expectation has developed that expanding technology will enable expanding service, and that distance education will prove more effective and less expensive than constructing new campuses. (Jacobsen 1994)

3.2 Decreasing Geographic Barriers Decreasing barriers of distance and communication are leading to the expansion of institutional boundaries and involvements. An "increased catchment area" beyond regional/national boundaries is developing, and many educational institutions are starting to move into overseas markets ¯ often in direction competition with local educational suppliers. (North 1995)

This is causing increasing competition between education providers for 'market share.' New paradigms are required concerning institutional boundaries. While this is not a new development, the increasingly real 'global village' is accelerating the pace, and these issues must be addressed.

3.3 Growth of the Service Industry Whole economies are transforming from an industrial to a service foundation. To maintain competitiveness institutions need to be innovative. One idea is to offer courses for which there is not enough local demand to justify the expense of program creation. (Stewart 1995) Local course offerings can also be improved by planning programs which would not be possible without distance education, such as pulling together part-time instructors who are geographically disparate experts in their fields. (Oates 1995)

One of the most interesting points raised is that by involving off-campus participants in course programs which included local students, "adding this networked community to the discussion has sharply increased the quality of the course for [local] students." (O'Donnell 1994)

At the same time, programs of marginal quality will need to be eliminated and their resources redirected to strengthen mid-range programs. (Godbey 1993) Competitiveness will become increasingly important, and the potential learner will go to whoever can provide training tailored to their needs. We will continue to see Universities scrambling to experiment with different instructional paradigms.

What very few researchers mention is the strategic importance of providing improved support services to distance learners, from Library systems to remote course registration. These 'add-ons' may make the difference for a number of institutions.

3.4 Changing Institutional Contexts The California State educational system expects to as much as double its student population from 326,000 in the next ten years. To do this in the traditional manner would require building a new campus during each of those years ¯ a clear impossibility. While some doubt these sorts of figures, for now administrators are looking for options (DeLouhghry 1994 - Pushing)

The ever-expanding directive to educate more people with limited or declining resources, without lowering standards ¯ to do more with less ¯ will lead to increased competitiveness in the distance education market along with demands for increasing faculty, staff, and student productivity. There are increasing expectations that technological development will lead to market expansion through non-traditional educational institutions and methodologies. (Day 1994)

There is an increasing need for institutional collaboration and resource sharing. This is coupled with a rising ability to pool human resources, share experts in different fields, and reduce duplication as technology develops.

Another driving force will be the need to develop new markets by offering unique educational experiences. One example is a collaborative exploration of the performing arts using a two-way video link between New York's Lincoln Centre and schoolrooms around the U.S. (Grimaldi 1995)

Providers of distance education will need to carefully explore these changes, and make decision which match their local resources, target audience, and institutional philosophy. Institutions offering distance education programs need to focus on what best fits their particular mission, goals, and circumstances.


Go Back 2. Who Needs / Uses Distance Education?
Go Forward 4. Tools Available for Distance Education


last revised 5 March, 1996
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