Distance education is as old as the wide availability of written materials and literacy. As textbooks and written guides became increasingly common, skill seeking or curious people had another way to learn alongside lectures and apprenticeships. From historical records of newspaper advertisements, we know that correspondence courses were available as early as 1728. Today, distance education can be taught be anyone, from individual private instructors to accredited colleges, in virtually any subject from a health science program to an accounting diploma.
Why Distance Education?
Because theres no cost for classrooms and other facilities, distance education is often cheaper than an equivalent traditional program. In very basic courses, the overhead costs are the instructors marking time, and how long it takes to assemble the initial materials, and even in courses where theres more communication between the teacher and the learner, theres less need for formal office space and the only transportation costs are the internet bills or postage.
The quality and means of delivery varies between courses. For much of their history, educators and schools relied on the post, with teacher or institution and student mailing each other assignments and course materials. These days, many courses are taught over the computer and students can review recorded lectures, participate in interactive tutorials and even have face to face conversations with instructors through video conference software.
Furthermore, theres a plethora of systems to administer and score quizzes on the computer.
Who Does Distance Education Suit?
People who live in sparsely populated or where a program of this nature is not available get particular benefit from distance education. For example, Canadian children in the arctic can stay with their parents and still get a basic education this way. Correspondence courses are also perfect for people who need a flexible schedule. Because study and course materials are completed at the pace of the student, whether its a new career or continuing education, its possible for students to juggle responsibilities and study at the same time. Another category includes students in a regular program, who want to supplement their studies with a course thats not available in their school. For example a student could be in a health science program and discover that a new medical technique is only taught at another school. Rather than transfer schools, they might learn about it through distance education and then apply the credit to their degree.
In addition to learning skills, a popular topic for distance education is exam preparation and professional certification. In this case a student may have already have been working in a field or completed studies, but is missing professional credentials or industry membership. An example of this is a person with an accounting diploma who wants to become chartered. In this case they know the material and just need to extra practice for the test that proves it.