Distance education is a way to deliver education to students who would not otherwise be able to attend a course. This way of instruction, also called distance learning, allows remotely located students to learn via correspondence or other modern technology. For students in far-off places, this is a key development. In 1946 the University of South Africa became one of the oldest universities based on this mode of instruction.
That’s not the start of distance education, however. It was actually begun well before this. In 1840, Sir Issac Pitman, who also invented shorthand, started the idea. He recommended that courses be offered through the mail. This was a sufficiently intriguing idea that in the early 1900s the University of Chicago started the first department for correspondence courses. The idea caught on, and several other universities established correspondence departments of their own.
Still, distance education as a major trend in education was limited to only a few countries until 1969. This changed when, in the UK, the Open University was established. This was so popular and revolutionary that several other similar institutions followed. Today, it is easier than ever to deliver quality instruction across great distances. We have modern technology, and the Internet. Educational materials can be delivered via email, broadcast, CD-ROM, podcast, audiotape, online message board, and video conferencing to name just some of the possible media.
There are other uses for instructional technology that have been incorporated into more traditional classroom settings as well. A teacher in one classroom can deliver a lecture to that room and to other classrooms as well via videoconferencing. This is referred to as teaching in a virtual classroom. Students can also communicate with an instructor and fellow students via email or even instant message, register online for courses, download video materials, receive syllabi and other course materials online, and so on. Today, most of the universities in the United States have at least some courses that are offered via distance learning. You can find distance learning in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors as well.