Distance education is seen both as a way to offer more equitable distribution of educational resources to special populations of students, and as a way to make instruction more cost-effective by sharing teachers and instructional materials. Distance education is a newer term for correspondence courses, which arose from the need to provide schooling to students in remote, sparsely populated areas that could not support a school. Distance education is the current hot topic for educators in all fields, including second and foreign language, and it was the focus of the CALL-IS academic session and other panels this year at the international TESOL convention. Distance education is often used to enhance the quality of traditional primary and secondary schooling and to deliver instruction to students in remote rural areas.
As the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided access for universities to the Internet, educators gained a powerful means for teaching and learning, which was radically different with previous electronic media. As we look today, educators can define and design effective and robust teaching and learning systems that would be responsive to the needs of student communities close and afar. In addition, institutions with 10+ years experience used satellite and videotape delivery more often, paid for faculty release time for DE teaching, and paid for a DE teaching assistant. According to these respondents, institutions compensate faculty more to develop distance learning courses than to teach them, in spite of anecdotes from faculty that teaching a DE course requires a lot more time and energy than traditional face-to-face courses.
Courses are delivered though a combination of printed texts and both live and prerecorded television broadcasts, with communication between faculty and students facilitated by computers. Enhanced streaming video and broadband delivery will change the face of distance education once again, as web-based interactive communication changed paper-based correspondence courses. One hundred and thirty respondents (61%) indicated their institutions have a maximum enrollment level for DE courses. Given the fact that more institutions are moving toward offering distance courses for many reasons including accreditation demands, a systematic evaluation is needed on whether DE is truly more time intensive.
Distance education is becoming more accepted by academia and the public. Distance education is not prevalent among elementary students but distance learning as a supplemental program has been successful implemented by pioneers. Currently, distance education is structured mostly for graduate-level and professional students. A critically important component of distance education is multimedia, in particular streaming media and Web-enabled DVDs. Distance education is undergoing enormous change, and not all the pieces are in place yet.