Many more consortia came into existence during 1980s and 1990s to provide distance learning programs using audio and video communication techniques. Students can receive instructions by seeing and hearing instructors but they can reply back only by audio communication. Students can talk to each other using audio communication technology. With the invention of various technologies, distance learning programs are not restricted to using traditional technologies such as audio, video, television, but now they use newer technologies such as e-mail, internet, and multimedia computers.
In collaboration with businesses and other partners, the Colorado Electronic Community College was established to provide degrees and certificate courses starting from Fall 1996 using the Internet, multimedia CD-ROM, video conferencing, and other technologies. The latest technological developments in the areas of computers and telecommunications have changed the whole distance learning delivery system for every type of education worldwide. These systems have become more reliable and easy to use. Distance Learning Technologies
There are mainly four major categories of distance learning technologies that are available for use to various universities conducting distance education programs. These categories are: The four types of technologies and their pros and cons are discussed in detail below: Audio Out of all the distance learning technologies, audio/voice technologies are the simplest and inexpensive form of technology. For example, we can use telephone with a voicemail facility as a distance learning tool. Audio-conference can be considered as a complex tool. Below are discussed some of audio technologies that are used in distance learning programs:
Voicemail Voicemail is the simplest and easily available facility to anyone enrolled in distance learning courses. It requires no additional training on the part of student to use it. As normal people for day-to-day work use voicemail, in the same way students and instructors can use it. Students can leave a message to their instructor at any time. Instructors can leave any message or answer to any student’s query on voicemail. It is the best replacement for electronic mails for those students who don’t have access to Internet.
This technology is not used as a primary tool to deliver distance learning contents, but is used as a secondary tool in a course. There are some pros and cons of voicemail usage. Main advantages of voicemail are that it is easily available to anyone and is easily accessible. There are no usage timings of voicemail. Some disadvantages of voicemail are that you have to pay some charges to use this feature and a long message can’t be recorded at one time. Audiotapes Other inexpensive audio-based tool used in distance learning programs is audiotapes (cassettes).
Whole lectures, discussions, or any type of instruction can be recorded in a cassette and send to the remote student. This type of mode is mostly used in language courses or listening courses. One of the various advantages of using audiotapes for the delivery of distance learning courses is that they are very cheap. Then, almost everybody has access to a cassette player somewhere, maybe at home or at office. At the top, they are very easy to create and use. Instructors don’t need to record the same thing many times for different students; copies of a cassette can be easily made.
On the other hand, disadvantages of using tapes are also there. These are one-way communication tools. Students can’t clear their doubts at the same time while they listen to them. Sometimes, a little disturbance get recorded with the original content. Nowadays audiotapes are rarely used. They are replaced by CDs. Audioconferences Audioconference is the best audio-based technology used in distance learning programs. Telephone is used to deliver instructions to students either to an individual student or to group of students using conference call.
Speakerphones are used when instructor talks with more than one student. But there are some disadvantages with using speakerphones. Speakerphone provides only simplex communication, i. e. two persons can’t speak at the same time. One has to wait for other to finish his/her talk. But these days with the advancement of technology, the waiting time in speakerphones is reduced to an extent that it appears to be a duplex communication. In a normal telephone line, only three locations can join a conference call. To connect more than three locations together in a conference call, a telephone bridge is used.
A telephone bridge is an electronic unit that can link many telephone lines together. The telephone bridges also balance audio levels. The bridge is of two types. First is call in bridge. A number is provided to all the students and students call to that number from their respective telephones. Other type of bridge is call out bridge. An operator from the university calls every student and connects each student to the conference. The main advantages of audioconferences are that they are relatively easy to set up and conduct. Students can talk to each other and to their professor at the same time like a real time class system.
Disadvantages of using audioconferences are they don’t provide any type of visual content. They are not used for a long time talk, as students may feel bored using this system for a long time. Video Video technologies enable the students to not only hear but also see their instructor. They provide the visual content of the instructions by the instructor. The communication using video technology can be either one-way or two-way depending on the type of mode used. For example, videotapes are one-way communication mode and videoconferencing is two-way communication mode. The most used video technologies are discussed below:
Videotapes The use of videotapes is very common in distance learning programs. Instructor can record the instructional material in videotape and send to distant students to their respective places. Demonstration of any idea or concept can be shown to students using videotapes. The main advantages of videotapes are as follows: They are not very expensive. They are easily available and almost every student can afford to buy a video cassette player. It is very easy to record anything on videotapes. Disadvantages of videotapes are listed below: They are not interactive.
It is not cheap and fast to send videotapes to students living in far remote places. Satellite Videoconferencing Satellite videoconferencing is one-way video and two-way audio communication. Satellites are used for this type of conferencing. The school has to setup an uplink transmission system to send audio and video signals. On the other side, a downlink system is required to receive the signals. These systems normally consist of a dish antenna. A telephone bridge is used to establish two-way audio communication. These systems are quite expensive and can’t be used by individual students.
Satellite videoconferencing is normally used between two or more schools. One school provides the distance learning courses and other schools provide classroom facilities for their students for these courses. The main advantage of satellite videoconferencing system is that students can interact with their instructor. The disadvantage of using this system is that it is very expensive for most of the schools. Microwave Television Conferencing Microwave transmissions are used in short-range areas. Communication is possible in the range of 15 to 21 miles. This system can be used to transmit video signals.
Federal Communications Commission designates a particular frequency for the use of microwave conferencing. Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) stations are used for this type of communication. The advantage of microwave television conferencing over satellite conferencing is that the equipment used in this system is not expensive. But the major disadvantage of this system is that video signals can be transmitted to the areas in the range of around 20 miles. Also there are limited numbers of channels that are available for use and almost all of them are currently in use.
Cable and Broadcast Television Cable and public broadcast television is an example of one-way audio and video communication. This type of educational networks system was started by CNN. Schools normally have contact with cable broadcast companies. A lecture on a topic is broadcasted on cable TV and can be watched at a fixed time. Normally, students make a recording of the lecture and watch at later time. The drawbacks of using this type of technology for distance learning programs are that this system requires setting up of a channel and broadcasting studio that is very costly.
Another thing is that it is not interactive. Digital (Desktop) Videoconferencing Desktop videoconferencing requires a computer along with a web camera and a microphone at each site. Computers are normally connected to each other by LAN or MAN. For faster connections, ISDN may be used. A computer from one site can transmit audio and video signals to other sites. Desktop videoconferencing is an example of two-way video and audio communications. A videoconferencing board must be installed at each computer to compress and decompress the audio and video signals.
Having an advantage of being less expensive, Desktop videoconferencing system has few limitations. The normal video transmission rate is around 15 frames per second as compared to normal 25 frames per second rate making the video looking slower. Then slower connections between computers can distort the video and audio signal resulting in loss of video quality. Internet Videoconferencing Videoconferencing is also possible with use of Internet. Like Desktop videoconferencing, a computer is required along with a web camera, a microphone and a digitizing card.
This type of system is quite famous these days. Software used for Internet videoconferencing is either CUSee-Me or Microsoft’s NetMeeting. Internet connection speed is the deciding factor for the quality of the video transmissions. Maximum possible fast Internet connection can’t even give a very good quality. Advantage of Internet videoconferencing is its low cost system. There is no special device or hardware required to use Internet videoconferencing. But there are many disadvantages of Internet videoconferencing. First, image size is very small as compared to the computer screen.
Second, video rate is normally very less equal to around 4 or 5 frames per second. Third, a regular modem is not sufficient to transmit effective video. Last, synchronization between lips and sound may get lost. Data Internet is used in almost every aspect of life today. With the increased usage of the Internet, computer technologies have become the most important mean of delivering distance learning education programs. E-mail, online collaborations, and web-based education are the main examples of computer technologies used in distance learning programs.
E-mail The most common and inexpensive mode of communication today is e-mail. Students interact with their instructors through e-mails. Course contents can be sent to students as e-mail attachments. Students can ask any question to their professor by sending an e-mail. Students can communicate with each other using e-mails. No matter what technology any distance learning program uses as the primary mode, it certainly uses e-mail system along with that. Along with e-mail messages, bulletin boards and listserves are also used in distance learning programs.
Bulletin boards are electronic forums where students can post messages or read messages that others have posted. Listserves are automated e-mail distribution systems. Any e-mail sent to a listserve will automatically be forwarded to all members of the listserve. Blackboards/Bulletin boards and listserves are very commonly used technologies these days. The advantages of e-mail communications include flexibility and usefulness. Any type of file can be attached with the e-mail message. Students can access their e-mails at any time of the day. The disadvantages of e-mail communications are not very significant.
This system requires students to have Internet connection and knowledge of using e-mail softwares. Then not every country has fast Internet connections. Sometimes it takes a long time to just open an e-mail. Online Collaboration: Internet Chat and Conferencing Communication through e-mail is not synchronous. Online chat, shared whiteboards and videoconferences are synchronous form of communication. A very good two-way, interactive communication mode is online chat. Two or more students can enter in a same chat room and exchange their views with each other.
There is a common message display screen. A message typed by any student appears on that screen. Students and instructors can communicate with each other in a real-time fashion. Instructors can fix meeting hours during which students can logon into that chat-room. The main advantage of using Internet chat is that it is very interactive and cost-efficient. In shared whiteboards system, a shared white screen with simple drawing tools is available to students. Any student can draw any diagram in the shared space to communicate with other student.
They can copy images or text from other source and paste them to the white board. This system is like Internet videoconferencing. Softwares like CU-See Me or NetMeeting are used to implement shared whiteboards. With the use of some advanced software, other programs running on the instructor’s computer screen can also be shared with the student. The advantages of online collaboration through chat or shared whiteboards are that the communications are synchronous and the students can give feedback instantly. The disadvantages include software requirement and scheduling.
The main limitation of this technology is that only limited number of students can communicate with each other at a time. Web-based Education The World Wide Web is the most primary tool used by any distance learning education program. It provides access to any remote site from any place. Instructors can upload any information regarding their courses on a web site. A special web site can be made to deliver educational programs. Also instructors can recommend web sites to their students that are relevant to the course. Entire course can also be offered via a web site.
There are several Virtual High Schools or CyberSchools that offer various credit courses for students. These programs are designed specifically for students who need or want the flexibility of taking courses whenever and wherever it is convenient. Another type of technology used by universities providing distance learning courses is blackboard. Blackboards are electronic forums where instructors can post announcements, syllabus, course material, assignments and other documents required for the fulfillment of the course. There is a facility to conduct online quizzes or tests on the blackboard.
Instructors can post grades and evaluations of the students on the blackboard. There are some other useful facilities provided by the blackboard system e. g. students can get information about other students studying that course. Other facilities include virtual classroom, discussion board, digital drop-box, personal address book and calendar. Advantages of web based education system are that it allows high level of interactivity. It is inexpensive and can be accessed from any part of the world. Its disadvantages include requirement of certain hardware and software, risk of attack of viruses. Print
Earlier when distance learning programs started, print material was used to deliver course contents. Instructions by instructions in the printed format were sent to students using ordinary mail system and students used to reply via same postal method. We have seen a great technological development; even then print technology is widely used to deliver course contents today. For some distance learning programs, print material may be the primary mode of providing course material to students, but for others, it may be the supplemental. As a primary mode, textbooks or printed lecture notes can be sent to students for study.
Students may use other modes like e-mail to clear their doubts on the course material. When print material is used as a supplement to other type of primary technologies, then it is normally used to provide study manuals of other complex technologies. This supplemental print material can be either send by a regular mail or by fax. Advantages of print materials include high portability, comfortableness, cost-effectiveness, and easily availably. Some of its disadvantages include lack of interaction, lack of audio or video concepts, and postal delays.
What is the Future of Distance Learning Technologies? What is the future of distance learning technologies? What do you think? What are their prospects? What type of technologies do you think you will see in the coming future? Which currently used technologies do require further improvement? Which technologies you think have become outdated today and will not be used in future?
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Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. A Teacher’s Guide to Distance Learning, Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. 1 Ehrmann, S. C. 1995 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Teaching section.