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Distance education, or distance learning, is a field of education that focuses on the pedagogy/andragogy, technology, and instructional systems design that are effectively incorporated in delivering education to students who are not physically "on site" to receive their education. Instead, teachers and students may communicate asynchronously (at times of their own choosing) by exchanging printed or electronic media, or through technology that allows them to communicate in real time (synchronously). Distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason including the taking of examinations is considered to be a hybrid or blended course or program.
Types of distance education courses
- Correspondence conducted through regular mail
- Internet conducted either synchronously or asynchronously
- Telecourse/Broadcast where content is delivered via radio or television
- CD-ROM where the student interacts with computer content stored on a CD-ROM
- PocketPC/Mobile Learning where the student accesses course content stored on a mobile device or through a wireless server
Modern distance education has been around at least since Isaac Pitman taught shorthand in Great Britain via correspondence in the 1840s 
One of the oldest distance education universities is the University of South Africa, which has been offering Correspondence Education courses since 1946. The largest distance education university in the United Kingdom is the Open University founded 1969. In Germany the FernUniversität in Hagen was founded 1974. There are now many similar institutions around the world, often with the name Open University (in English or in the local language), and these are listed below.
There are many private and public, non-profit and for-profit institutions offering courses and degree programs through distance education. Levels of accreditation vary; some institutions offering distance education in the United States have received little outside oversight, and some may be fraudulent diploma mills. In many other jurisdictions, an institution may not use the term "University" without accreditation and authorisation, normally by the national government.
In Distance Education, students may not be required to be present in a classroom, but that also may be a question of option. As for an electronic classroom or Virtual Learning Environment, it may or not be a part of a distance education set up. Electronic classrooms can be both on campus, and off campus. We would call such institutions as using a 'flexible' delivery mode.
Distance Education may also use all forms of technology, from print to the computer. This range will include radio, television, audio video conferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/on-line learning et al. (E-learning/online-learning are largely synonymous). A distinction is also made between open learning and distance learning. To clarify our thinking we can say that 'open' education is the system in which the student is free to choose the time and place, but distance education is a teaching methodology used when the student and teacher are separated by time and place. Thus it follows that not all open-learning institutions use distance education and not all organizations that use distance education are open learning institutions. Indeed there are many cases in which students are in traditional classrooms, connected via a video-conferencing link to a teacher in a distant classroom. This method is typical in geographically dispersed institutions. Conversely, the term virtual university is sometimes used to describe an open-learning institution that uses the Internet to create an imaginary university environment, in which the students, faculty, and staff can communicate and share information at any time, regardless of location.
Distance Education has traversed four to five 'generations' of technology in its history. These are print, audio/video broadcasting, audio/video teleconferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/ online-learning, computer broadcasting/podcasting etc. Yet the radio remains a very viable form, especially in the developing nations, because of its reach. In India the FM Channel is very popular and is being used by universities, to broadcast educational programmes of variety on areas such as teacher education, rural development, programs in agriculture for farmers, science education, creative writing, mass communication, in addition to traditional courses in liberal arts, science and business administration.
In short then, though a range of technology presupposes a distance education 'inventory' it is technological appropriateness and connectivity, such as computer, or for that matter electrical connectivity that should be considered, when we think of the world as a whole, while fitting in technological applications to distance education.
Older models of distance education utilized regular mail to send written material, videos, audiotapes, and CD-ROMs or other media storage format (e.g. SD card or CompactFlash cards) to the student and to turn in the exercises. Today's distance education course makes use of E-mail, the Web, and video conferencing over broadband network connections for both wired physical locations and wireless mobile learning. In some countries, the material is supplemented by television and radio programming. To compete with the conventional sector, course material must be of very high quality and completeness, and will use modern technologies such as educational animation.
Full time or part-time study is possible, but most students choose part-time study. Research study is possible as well. Distance education is offered at all levels, but is most frequently an option for university-level studies. A form of educational program which is similar to this but which requires some amount of presence during the year is a low-residency program.
Distance education programs are sometimes called correspondence courses, an older term that originated in nineteenth-century vocational education programs that were conducted through postal mail. This term has been largely replaced by distance education, and expanded to encompass more sophisticated technologies and delivery methods. The first subject taught by correspondence was the Pitman Shorthand, a tool of stenography. Primary and secondary education programs were also widely available by correspondence, usually for children living in remote areas.
Testing and evaluation
Distance education has had trouble since its conception with the testing of material. The delivery is fairly straightforward, which makes sure it is available to the student and he or she can read it at their leisure. The problem arises when the student is required to complete assignments and testing. Whether quizzes, tests, or examinations; Online courses have had difficulty controlling cheating because of the lack of teacher control. In a classroom situation the teacher can monitor students and visually uphold a level of integrity consistent with the institutions reputation. With distance education the student can be removed from supervision completely. Some schools, such the University of Maryland University College, address integrity issues concerning testing by requiring students to take examinations in a proctored setting.
Assignments have adapted by becoming larger, longer, and more thorough so as to test for knowledge by forcing the student to research the subject and prove they have done the work. Quizzes are a popular form of testing knowledge and many courses go by the honor system regarding cheating. Even if the student is checking questions in the textbook or online, there may be an enforced time limit or the quiz may be worth so little in the overall mark that it becomes inconsequential. Exams and bigger tests are harder to regulate. Obviously the mark-oriented students cannot be trusted with their own marks. In smaller tests a professor may employ another computer program to keep all other programs from running on the computer eliminating the possibility of help from the Internet.
Used in combination with invigilators, a pre-arranged supervisor trusted with over-looking big tests and examinations may be used to increase security. Many Midterms and Final examinations are held at a common location so that professors can supervise directly. Many of these examinations are still on the computer in which case the same program blocking software can be used. When the Internet became a popular medium for distance education many websites were founded offering secure exam software and packages to help professors manage their students more effectively.
- Computer-assisted language learning Computer-assisted language learning
- Degree completion program
- Diploma mill (While many distance education programs provide valuable instruction, others offer degrees with little requirements.)
- Educational technology (Related: Learning management system)
- Instructional design
- Efficient learning method
- European Association of Distance Teaching Universities
- External degree
- Online learning (aka E-Learning) (Related: E-learning glossary)
- Virtual Campus
- Virtual school
- Instructional design coordinator
de:Fernunterricht de:Teleteaching es:Educación a distancia he:למידה מרחוק pt:Educação à distância ru:Дистанционное обучение zh:遙距教學
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