Distance Learning Essay

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Distance Learning

Distance education can trace its roots to 1840 when Sir Isaac Pitman, the English inventor of shorthand, came up with an idea for delivering instruction to a potentially limitless audience: correspondence courses by mail. By the 1900s, the first department of correspondence teaching was established at the University of Chicago. The founding of the United Kingdom’s Open University in 1969 marked a significant development of the newest phase of distance learning involving a mixed-media approach to teaching (Matthews 1999).

Distance education takes place when a teacher and student are separated by physical distance and technology (in the form of print, voice, video and/or data) is used to bridge the
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Despite the large volume of written material concentrating on distance learning, the amount of original research is quite limited. A closer look at the research that exists suggests that one should be cautious in accepting these findings at face value. The most significant problem is that the overall quality of the original research is questionable and renders many of the findings inconclusive (Merisotis & Phipps 1999).

There are four shortcomings of the original research:

Much of the research does not control for extraneous variables and therefore cannot show cause and effect. Most of the studies do not use randomly selected subjects. The validity and reliability of the instruments used to measure student outcomes and attitudes are questionable. Many studies do not adequately control for the feelings and attitudes of the students and faculty – what educational research refers to as "reactive effects."

(Ibid.)

A report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy also argues that the many articles and papers published on distance education aren’t as useful as they could be. The Institute claims that distance education research often fails to use randomly selected subjects; it focuses too heavily on individual courses rather than the effectiveness of entire academic programs delivered via technology; and it pays too little attention to whether the limitations of "virtual libraries" constrict the academic direction of

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