If you think about it, even before the internet revolutionized the distance education space, distance learning was already a field in its own right.
As early as 1840, Isaac Pitman the proponent and developer of Pitman shorthand offered distance learning to students willing to learn his type of shorthand. He would mail texts transcribed in shorthand via postcards and receive transcriptions from his students for correction.
Fast forward to 2018, the distance learning space has seen the advent of correspondence distance learning, audio distance learning, and now synchronous education and asynchronous education.
- Correspondence distance learning: bolstered by the invention of the postal mail system which allowed people to communicate via long distance through the postal mail. Expanded steadily during the 19th and 20th century with teachers teaching courses such as mine safety.
- Audio distance learning: bolstered by the invention of the telephone. The University of Wisconsin was among the first to utilize this by setting up an Education Telephone Network (ETN) that allowed nurses, doctors, and lawyers to continue studying while practicing. ETN was so successful that up until 2002 when it was discontinued, it was still offering programs.
- Synchronous and asynchronous distance learning: bolstered by the advent of the internet and associated technologies.
Something shines through when you analyze these various e-learning forms over the years; that technology evolution always played a part. Whether it was the postal mail, the telephone or the internet—each technological growth affected the distance learning space for the better.
The most recent technology boom is, of course, the internet and the technologies associated with the internet such as networking, the rise of the information age, high quality audio and video, and access to affordable Wi-Fi.
With that in mind, let us look at how this current technology boom has given rise to synchronous and asynchronous distance learning.
Asynchronous learning is also known as location independent learning. The idea behind it is that it does not matter the location of the student or the time they are willing to study because they can still learn the same material taught in class.
Asynchronous distance learning fully began to take shape with the advent of the internet and as more computers made their way into people’s homes. There was now a new way of accessing and disseminating information and both teachers and students took advantage.
Students were able to use the web and access resources online and communicate with their teachers via email and discussion boards. This form of learning was so successful that by late 1990s universities were offering full degree programs via online study.
Asynchronous distance learning has continued to evolve as technology has played a part in the development of new tools such as wikis and class blogs.
Synchronous e-learning involves learning real-time via video conferencing and chats. The students join the classroom virtually as the teacher is teaching. They can ask questions as the lecture goes on and the teacher will immediately answer through instant messaging.
Though synchronous e-learning began in the 1980s due to video-conferencing and interactive television technologies, it was not until the internet and advent of interactive multimedia technologies that synchronous e-learning took root.
Synchronous e-learning is a great beneficiary of e-learning software—a software that allows a teacher to deliver instruction via the internet via multimedia interactions.
The Benefits of Distance Learning
The most significant benefit of distance learning is the ability to access education courses from highly ranked universities irrespective of your location. All you need is good internet, a computer and the willingness to learn.
Another advantage is the ability to study while still working. For example you can take diploma in teaching while working in any educational institute. Particularly with asynchronous e-learning, you can study in your free time and still access the same high-level material those in the class are privy to.
Technology will continue impacting and influencing education, and by extension, help make the world more learned and simplify modes of accessing knowledge.
Just recently, recent advancements in mobile computing have seen the rise of yet another distance learning evolution. Reputable universities and teachers are now beginning to offer m-learning (mobile learning) and t-learning (tablet learning).
In 2016, 62.2% of the world’s population owned mobile phones. That means as mobile computing continues to evolve, more than 62.2% of the world’s population will have access to high quality education despite their location.
Of course, it is not just mobile computing. Currently, AI, machine learning, robotics and big data are technologies expected to revolutionize how we do things. One can only wait and see how they will impact education and distance learning.