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

Keywords: distance education, distance learning, computer networking, videoconferencing, satellite

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction / What is Distance Education?
  3. Who Needs / Uses Distance Education
  4. Changing Needs / Roles of Providers
  5. Tools Available for Distance Education
  6. The Internet - Changes in Tools and Toolmaking
  7. Problems and Challenges Of Distance Education
  8. Conclusion
  9. References
  10. Appendix - Related Readings


While distance learning is far from new, recent years have seen an explosion in the mechanisms and tools available for its implementation and support. Distance learning has successfully integrated new communication technologies several times in the past: previously, distance learning providers were faced with the choices of sending their staff to the learner, shipping them increasing quantities of study and research materials, or investing heavily in audio and video broadcast technologies. Broadcast capabilities especially helped to revolutionize the scope and capability of distance learning programs - but at a tremendous financial cost, and with a number of restrictions on the learner.

More recent advances in computer networking technologies showed great promise for distance learning. Computer-based instruction programs could be rapidly revised and disseminated and users were given more freedom of time and location for their studies. With the exponential expansion of network access world-wide, coupled with the development of cross-platform standardized tools for multi-media and hypertext access, complex distance learning programs are able to reach farther and wider than ever before. In addition, more instructor-student interaction and feedback can be incorporated into the program materials.

Protocols like the hypertext environment of the World-Wide Web and network-capable videoconferencing using Cu-SeeMe herald the increasing availability and utility of network-based learning. Coupled with the drastically reduced costs for both transmission and delivery (compared to satellite transmission facilities and base stations) and the increasing pervasiveness of globally-capable computer network connections, distance learning has the potential for explosive growth and acceptance.

Go Forward 1. Introduction / What is Distance Education?

last revised 5 March, 1996
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