The rapid development of the Internet and digital technologies has placed the 21st century person into a position where they can barely differentiate between the digital and the physically interactive world.
The gradual blending of the digital realm with the physical, along with the advancements in artificial intelligence, hints at the increasing probability of the futuristic world of Singularity (The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology).
Namely, distance education offers itself as the sole pragmatic answer to these challenges and phenomena bound to be faced by young people, which means that the traditional education paradigm will have to be modified and adjusted. However, the educators will retain an important role in remote learning, while digital technologies and the Internet will fill the physical gap.
However, although distance learning has become a fully integrated aspect of a number of accredited programs at well-known institutions worldwide, there are still skeptics who claim that knowledge transfer via digital technology can never replace face to face communication in teaching. This claim is based primarily on the assumption that our biology (our biological nature) is predisposed for learning in real time and space, and that any form of departure from this leads to a decrease in quality, productivity and motivation in learning.
Distance education from today’s perspective, refers to education that utilizes the Internet and digital technologies as the medium for connecting the teachers with and transferring the teaching materials to the students who are unable to be physically present at the educational institution. There are a number of terms that are used synonymously with distance education, such as: distance learning, remote learning, online education, online learning, e-learning, virtual classroom, etc.
Distance education programs can be generally divided into two groups: those fully based on distance learning, and programs that constitute a combination of distance learning and traditional teaching, which are often referred to as blended learning.
The belief that distance learning has been around for a little more than two decades is a good indicator of people’s tendency to forget history quickly. Actually, the attempts at initiating distance learning can be traced back to almost 300 years in the past to an advertisement placed in the Boston Gazette (1728) where stenographer Caleb Phillips offered weekly stenography lessons through written exchange by mail.
About a century later, in 1840, Sir Isaac Pitman conducted the first distance learning course, in which he sent stenographic texts to his students, who would send back their corrections. The most important aspect of this mode was the feedback from the students, which would have been impossible without the introduction of a unified postal system in England. This mode of learning created a good starting point for the development of correspondence courses, which went on to develop into entire schools.
The first correspondence school in the United States was The Society to Encourage Studies at Home dedicated exclusively to educating women. In the quarter-century of its existence, this school provided education to over 7000 students thanks to over 200 corresponding teachers.
For a number of years, universities have had an additional source of income through providing online correspondence courses containing course materials forwarded by mail or email, including testing materials. The factors that set these courses apart from fully-fledged distance learning include significant limitations regarding teacher–student interaction, as well as the reliance on the pace of the person attending the course, due to the lack of strict deadlines.
Distance education includes several specific characteristics:
Within the wide range of approaches to the implementation of distance learning, only a few are fully acknowledged by the leading experts in pedagogy and the existing renowned educational institutions. The first two of the following types constitute the general categories, with all other types classifiable as their subtypes.
Surely, not one single approach to learning offered by education systems can meet everyone’s needs. Namely, human beings are too complex (considering their genetic makeup, their environment and the culture they grew up in) to fit into a narrow form of learning. However, distance learning provides quite comprehensive options compared to the earlier forms of education. In the next section, we will state the crucial advantages and disadvantages of distance learning.
As you could see, distance education is certainly not an ideal approach in education, nor is it able to quite replace all aspects of traditional teaching. However, we must admit that distance education has a number of as-yet undiscovered possibilities regarding the optimization of education of young people, as it has become a part of formal education not very long ago.
To conclude, bearing in mind all this information about remote teaching, it is up to us to decide how to best utilize our existing experience with distance learning, keeping our eyes set on the objective of providing the best possible quality of education to our students / our children.