This article covers a brief evolution of distance education from “snail mail” to the more current incarnations utilizing technology to facilitate learning.

Distance Learning Online is defined as utilizing some of the following mechanisms:

  1. electronic mail (delivery of course materials, sending in assignments, getting/giving feedback, using a course listserv, i.e., electronic discussion group)
  2. bulletin boards/newsgroups for discussion of special topics;
  3. downloading of course materials or tutorials;
  4. interactive tutorials on the Web;
  5. real-time, interactive conferencing using MOO (Multiuser Object Oriented) systems or Internet Relay Chat;
  6. “intranets,” corporate websites protected from outside access that distribute training for employees; and
  7. informatics, the use of online databases, library catalogs, and gopher and websites to acquire information and pursue research related to study.

Advantages of distance learning include

  1. time and place flexibility;
  2. potential to reach a global audience;
  3. no concern about compatibility of computer equipment and operating systems;
  4. quick development time, compared to videos and CD-ROMs;
  5. easy updating of content, as well as archival capabilities; and
  6. usually lower development and operating costs

As a on campus & distance education student (MLIS) I have participated in all of those types of DL learning except for MOO. I found some mechanisms more convenient than others although I didn’t seem that any of them gave a true in class feel , which was not necessarily the point, but sometimes a nice touch. Although this article takes issue with the isolation issue of distance learning (“some learners are not comfortable with it”), I think it is a very important issue. I feel that I generally feel comfortable in an online environment yet I find learning online (with no human contact) more time intensive than f2f and sometimes even boring. DL is much more learner centered. In a classroom situation, a teacher may be able to “see” that a student is bored, frustrated, or not “getting it.” In an online environment all of the responsibility is on the student to provide that feedback.