What Is Distance Education?

education concept with learn button on computer keyboard

Dr. Purushothaman
November 29, 2013

What is Distance Education?

Establish a definition of Distance Education, after analyzing how define some educational institutions. Examine the origin of distance education and compare the term with similar expressions.
Before attempting to explain the complex and controversial issue is useful to define the terms in question. In this case, before defining distance education, we should first define Education.

A dictionary definition of education is:
"The act or process of educating or being educated." Or more simple "The act of imparting knowledge.

It is important to note that the words in the definitions above are action or process. But Education is associated with a place such as school, university, schools and not the process.

With regard to the concept of learning, there are various conceptions and interpretations. Examine some of them, as well as elements of them.
We call learning modality or man's ability to learn, which occurred as a result of motor activities that cannot be attributed simply to the process of growth and development as human beings.
We can say that learning is a process of acquiring knowledge and skills. For this process can be defined as learning, rather than passing a simple restraint must involve retention of knowledge or skill in question to allow for their demonstration at a future time. Learning can be defined in a more formal "as a relatively permanent change in behavior or potential behavior, comes from experience."

We note that learning can be understood:

As a product, ie the result of an experience or a change that comes with practice.
As a process in which the behavior changes, improves or controls.
As a function since it is the change that occurs when the subject interacts with the information (materials, activities and academic experiences).

In the 80s there were three major changes on the theme of education and learning.
1. The passage of a psychosocial orientation of education to their integration into a theory of teaching.

2. The paradigm shift from a predominantly behavioral, cognitive orientation to another.
3. Expanding the concept of learning which includes cognitive and effective.

For now define that distance education is a form of education, referring to the process, but this process is done remotely. For what could be defined as the act or process of educating or being educated, when this process is done remotely without using a physical space where members are meeting the educational process.
Consider that the concept of education includes the teaching-learning process, according to modern interpretations of the same, thus acting to achieve a better relationship with existing and common concepts.
The Distance Education Program was conceived as a means of informal education that would integrate with people who, for cultural, social or economic not adapt or no access to conventional education systems.

Definitions of other institutions

Let's see how some institutions define distance education.
Combination of education and technology to reach their audience through large distances is the hallmark of distance learning. This amounts to a strategic means to provide training, education and new communication channels for businesses, educational institutions, government and other public and private agencies. With predictions of being one of the seven major developments in the area of education in the future, distance education is crucial in our geopolitical situation as a means of disseminating and assimilating information on a global basis .- (Texas A & M University) .
Distance Education is distributing education that does not require students to be physically present in the same place with the instructor. Historically, Distance Education meant studying by correspondence. Today, audio, video and computer technology are most common modes of transmission: (The Distance Learning Resource Network DLRN).
The term distance education represents a variety of education models have in common the physical separation of teachers and some or all students (University of Maryland).
At its basic level, distance education takes place when students and teachers are separated by physical distance and technology (voice, video, data and impressions) often in combination with face to face classes, is used as a bridge to reduce this barrier (Distance Education at a Glance).

Using the above definitions we can identify three criteria for distance education.

These are:
• Separation of teachers and students, at least in most parts of the process,
• The use of technological means to unite education teachers and students,
• Using two-way communication between students and instructors.

Like terms.
Now to distinguish between some similar terms, synonyms, Distance Education.
To define more clearly the issue now discuss terms associated. There are many terms that are used as synonyms for Distance Education. While many of these terms are related, there are differences. Usually when people use one of these terms or otherwise, unless they have a specific purpose related to distance education.

These terms include

Distance Learning (Distance Learning)

The school and instructor control of distance education but the learning is student responsibility. The student is responsible for obtaining the knowledge, understanding or application through the educational process.
Learning is the result of education. The teacher provides the environment that makes learning possible, but the student is performing it.
Distance learning can be considered a product of distance education.

Open Learning (Open Learning)

Open learning is a possibility of access to educational opportunities. Opening up opportunities for groups of the population that traditionally lacked the prerequisites for higher education. Open learning has changed the concept that education must be conducted within a prescribed schedule and school formal means.

Distributed Learning (Distributed Learning)

Distributed learning, also known as learning networks, combining different ways of sending mail. It is characterized by user groups and modes of communication, all computerized. The distributed learning are increasingly combining internal computer networks (Intranets) running on LANs (local area networks) and Internet.

Flexible Learning (Flexible Learning)
Flexible Learning seeks to optimize every opportunity for education. Recognizes that not all students learn the same way. Flexible learning focuses on learning strategies for individual students. Using all the strategies and techniques available to maximize the educational process. Flexible learning aims to be student-centered, emphasizing the responsibility of students, learning to train and rhythm of individual advancement.

At a basic level distance education takes place when educators and students are physically separated and technologies (video, voice, data, and print) are used combined with witnessing activities to reduce the impact of distance learning.

The distance education programs are providing adults a second chance at higher education and are helping those with limited time, distance, work or physical limitations, to update the skills required in their work.

How is Distance Education?
Currently using a variety of electronic means to send or receive support materials for distance education. Each institution determines the most appropriate media, in which it has at its disposal and its students well, and with them makes the combinations that best suit their capabilities. The media can be classified into four broad categories:

Voice: The educational tools related to the voice can be divided into passive and interactive. Among the former are the telephone, audio conferencing, voice mail and shortwave radio. The technological tools are passive voice audio recorders. Interactive technologies allow simultaneous communication in both directions, send and receive, while in the passive the student only receives the message and cannot answer it at that time.

Video: Inside find the video images, such as computer presentations (slide shows, Power Point, etc.) Filmed moving images (movies, videos, digitized film, etc.). And moving images transmitted in time real. These can be in one direction, such as those sent via satellite or commercial television or may be through computers in desktop video conferencing or interactive video conferencing.

Data: Applies to the information sent and received through computers. In this category are four broad categories:

• Computer Aided Education (Computer-assisted instruction (CAI))
• Administered by Computer Education (Computer-managed instruction (CMI))
• Education for Computer Multimedia through. (Computer-Based Multimedia (CBM)
• Education through Computers. (Computer-mediated education (CME))

Materials: This was the basic form of distance education programs, from the current systems evolved. It includes textbooks, study guides, workbooks, curricula, case studies, etc.. Currently one of the forms printed have been displaced by data sent via computer and made available to students via the Internet, where it is common to find programs of classes, lectures, study guides and some materials more. The student can now consult the Internet, forward them to your computer or print if desired.

Is Distance Education Effective?
Many educators ask if distant students learn as well as traditional students. Researchers who have compared the methods of distance education with traditional forms have concluded that distance education can be as effective as traditional forms of education face when using the methods and technologies, ie, when there is interaction between students and when they have timely feedback from the teacher.
One of the key questions associated with educational technology is whether it helps or not student learning. There have been two main approaches used to investigate the media. It compares the new medium (radio, tv computer) with a traditional classroom. In these studies comparing distance education with traditional methods in the classroom. Many studies have shown no significant difference in the achievements made as a result of the comparisons. The result achieved by students is not a function of the mode of teaching. Some studies have found higher returns when students used interactive computer programs, including email, video one way or two-way communication and media.
Other studies have focused on the learning context rather than a specific means of transmission. These studies have shown that students perform better when you combine several means of delivery and teaching techniques. They have studied the effects of using desktop videoconferencing used to evaluate the work of other colleagues or the effect of participating in large workgroups. The interaction between collaborative working groups and new educational technologies generally produce positive outcomes for students.
Finally, some studies have identified several factors that appear to be particularly important in distance education. A high level of student motivation, hard work and ethical, academic and technical support to students include measures which generally produce good results in the students. Support to students has been defined as providing not only academic, but also the identification and solution of problems of students, providing opportunities for interaction between students and teachers, and the ability to keep them motivated through monitoring of achievements and feedback.

Key elements in Distance Education

At first we define education as a process and as such has elements that play roles in the process. We discuss the key elements of distance education process and the changes they have experienced their roles for the effects of technology.

Students: Regardless of the context in which to develop education, the role of students is learning. This is a daunting task that usually in most cases requires motivation, planning and the ability to analyze and apply knowledge they learn. When distance education is to have a special burden that are separated from their companions, and they have near them who share their interests and knowledge. Furthermore, with the new technologies are now able to interact with peers who may live in very different to his, and enrich their learning experiences with others, and the experience of their teachers.
Educators: The effectiveness of any distance education process rests firmly on the shoulders of educators and teachers. In a traditional classroom, the teacher's responsibilities also include determining the specific content of the course, understand and address the particular needs of students. In distance education teachers must also:

• Develop an understanding and knowledge of the characteristics and needs of distance learners with little or no personal contact.

• Adapt teaching styles taking into consideration the needs and expectations of a wide and diverse audience.

• Knowing how to operate educational technology while keeping their attention on their roles as educators.

• Operate effectively as a facilitator and as a content provider.

Consultants: It's a new character in distance education that is used in remote sites to support the teacher or principal instructor, providing advice and support to students and being a bridge between students and lead teacher. Carry out functions such as installation of equipment and software meet the jobs and tasks, and use tests are the eyes and ears of the teacher in distant sites.

Support Staff: They are responsible for the numerous technical details and communication required in a distance education process function effectively. Usually responsible for the registration of students, duplication and distribution of materials, shipment of textbooks, control and distribution of correspondence between students and teachers, scheduling courses, checking grades, following the development of courses . On the technical side of educational technology, are responsible for the installation and operation of communication networks, installation or development of software required for the process of distance education, technical assistance with questions from students or correcting faults and communication problems, or performance.

Administrators: Administrators are directly related to the planning and implementation of distance education programs. Once in operation the programs achieve coordination among support personnel, technical, academic to ensure there are material resources, technological and human resources to achieve the objectives of the institution. Maintain the academic focus of distance education programs.

Why teach at a distance?
Teachers in a traditional school classroom support the realization of its kind in that they can observe the behavior of their students. Eye contact is an essential element for imparting knowledge. A quick glance lets them know who is paying attention and taking notes, who is preparing to ask a question or comment. It also allows them to detect a student who is bored and tired, as it is equally clear. Good teachers are attentive to the manifestations of their students' behavior and modify the alternate class activities according to the circumstances they detect.
In contrast, the distance teacher has little or no eye contact with students. In addition to the few contacts that are distorted or are somehow affected by the barriers imposed by technology. It is more difficult to maintain a stimulating teacher-student discussion when you are not seeing the faces or when to expect the arrival of the sound between the two remote sites.

However, many teachers who use it have the idea that the opportunities offered by distance education outweigh the obstacles to the use of technology. In fact, many instructors agree that the distance that requires preparation courses to help improve their performance as teachers. The challenges of distance education means are offset by opportunities for:

• To reach a wider audience of students.

• Meet the needs of students who cannot attend regular classes at universities due to limited work, time or space.

• Engage in class participation of experts from other areas that are located anywhere and that would not otherwise be accessible to students.

• Gather students of different cultural, economic, social and with varied work experiences and knowledge.

• Make education and training accessible to students in remote areas.

• Allowing can continue their studies without having to stop working and getting paid.

• Ensure that students can get expert advice from highly skilled teachers.

From a strictly educational standpoint, not managerial or administrative, that is, from the perspective of the creation, production, dissemination and critical evaluation of knowledge, technology can be applied in four basic ways which are:

1. How to help education?

2. How direct support learning?

3. "As an analytical tool for thinking systemically education?

4. How research helps to intellectual, scientific or artistic creation?

We do not doubt the enormous positive impact which the use of various telecommunications technologies in educational processes. Benefits are reported in economy of time in more individualized to the specific needs of each user, to facilitate content learning through greater connection audiovisual sensory and sequential themes, subjects studied, to shorten geographical distances, to communicate quickly to multiple people simultaneously, in rapid dissemination of findings, research and knowledge on student interaction with the learning experience and I can go on citing many advantages for the educational process appropriate use of technologies. It is a way of encouraging active student participation in learning.

What to do to be successful learning?
Good educational practice is essentially the same distance to the traditional good educational practice and the factors that influence education are generally universal in different environments. Since the technology using distance education requires more planning and preparation, teachers who teach distance should consider the following factors to improve its effectiveness:

• It requires extensive planning and evaluation of equipment and training courses. The distance students appreciate teachers who are well prepared course and being organized.

• Students perform better when the program and class materials are well presented. The use of images and graphics and interactivity contributes to the understanding by students of the course. However, the use of visual aids should be considered in terms of the environment in which they taught the class and possible characteristics of students.

• Teachers need to be trained in the use of equipment and techniques suitable for distance education. Students learn best when the teacher dominates the hardware and software used for distance education.

Many distance students need advice and support to perform most of the learning experience. The support they can get from the combination of interaction with the teacher or other students through discussion forums and tools that will provide the teacher.

• Students appreciate timely feedback on course content, examinations or assessments and projects or works to be performed.

• Students will gain great benefits from learning to participate in small learning groups. These groups provide support and encouragement as well as feedback on course work and tasks. The groups also provide them with the assurance that if they need help, where will get it.

• Students generally stay more motivated if they are in contact with the teacher or counselor. The formal contact within the course design can be used as a motivational tool.

• The use of local facilitators who are responsible for developing a friendly environment for working with students and those familiar with the team and the course content, increase student satisfaction with the course.

For teachers, participating in distance education programs requires the improvement of skills they already have, rather than the development of new skills, so they must put attention to the following aspects.

• Evaluate the content really can be included and addressed effectively in any course. Given the logistics that distance education requires, submit the same content at a distance usually requires more time to present it in a classroom.

• Note that students who participate in your course will probably have different learning styles. Some team will facilitate learning, while others will be excellent independent work.

• Diversify and schedule the course activities and avoid long readings. Interleave content presentations with discussions and exercises for students. Keep in mind the medium or combination of them, which will run the course and discover all the advantages we offer.

• humanize the course keeping the focus on student learning and not the medium of transmission or technology.

• Consider using some components of printed material to supplement non-print materials.

• Use examples and case studies of local students as possible and support their students to understand and apply its knowledge environment of the course. Remember that the circumstances and environments in which students will be located are varied.

• Impulse their students to share experiences with peers and with the group. You can learn much more by sharing the experiences of all, in orderly fashion. Ask them to explain how things in their environment and how they apply the knowledge they are acquiring.

• Be concise. Use short statements and comprehensive. Ask things directly. Always remember that the distances make communication slower and that students need more time to respond.

• Develop strategies to strengthen students for review, repetition and remediation. For this, the phone counseling, email or audio conference can be very useful.

• Stay relaxed. Students need to familiarize participants with the new form of distance education in which they are participating. After the initial period the rate of progress in improving learning.
If the teacher uses appropriate strategies for interaction and feedback can identify and meet the individual needs of their students, while establishing adequate mechanisms to enable it to constantly improve the course. To improve interaction and feedback, keep the following:

• Use questions that students can study before classes to promote critical thinking and well-informed participation of students. Use the time on his side and avoid the improvisations of the students. Let them investigate and substantiate their shares.

• Since the beginning of the courses ask students to make contact with you and each other through e-mail to feel accustomed to the process. Maintain electronic communication forums can be a very effective tool.

• Establish and respect for their office hours at that distance learners can locate him by telephone, audio conferencing or desktop videoconferencing. Use the evening or night if the majority of students work during the day.

• Keep a variety of forms of interaction and feedback. The easier it is for different types of students select one in which they feel most comfortable. Consider also the personal visits whenever possible.

• Communicate with all sites or all students, if possible every week, especially early in the course. Determine students not participating in the first session and establish communication with them.

• Keep forms of communication available to discuss matters related to the content, relevance, the course syllabus, shipping materials, work in teams and form of instruction.

• Have students keep a journal about their experiences and thoughts on the process and ideas about course content. Ask them to send their units frequently.

• Use local facilitators to stimulate interaction when their students are hesitant to ask questions or participate.

• Ensure that all students have equal opportunities to participate. Diplomatically but firmly discourage students' attempts to monopolize or sites wishing to participate in class time.

• Make detailed comments on the work or opinions received, refer them to additional sources of information where they can enrich their learning. Answer promptly by the most effective and expeditious disposal.

• No boundaries of time or place.

• Ability to offer courses according to needs at the right time.

• Adaptation of content.

• Greater possibility of renovation continues.

• Provision of courses taught by professionals from the Association.

• Sharing Resources: Distance education enables the institutional resources of a school or institution will be used to teach students from other schools or institutions

• Greater access to students: Through distance education, students have access to instruction in more than one location, instead of only the local instruction. This makes learning more accessible for many students.

• Improving the quality of education: Distance education should be considered as a future goal of the organizations and institutions, as well as how to take advantage of any special characteristics of a remote location.

• Flexibility in time and space
Provides participants the flexibility to access the study material and study schedule that allows asynchronous, anywhere where they are

• Rate of custom study
Allow time management and use of the hours that best suit the participant according their own needs

• Specialized Faculty
It puts teachers experts in the field of knowledge available to participants


• Autonomy in the study.

• Convenience.

• Flexibility.

• Time saving.

• Tutoring.

• Lower Costs.

Why are successful students?

Research suggests that students involved in distance education programs have certain characteristics that influence their performance in the courses:

• Student volunteers are seeking more education.

• Have college education goals

• They are highly motivated and self disciplined.

• Are older than those attending universities.
Studies have also shown that the following factors are important in both traditional and distance education.

• Willingness to seek help from the instructors.

• Serious attitude throughout the course.


A high level of student motivation, hard work and ethical, academic and technical support to students include measures which generally produce good results in the students. Support to students has been defined as providing not only academic, but also the identification and solution of problems of students, providing opportunities for interaction between students and teachers, and the ability to keep them motivated through monitoring of achievements and feedback.

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