Technology is a vital aid that helps many educational institutions offer distance learning programs to students in various places. Various issues have an impact on the usage of technological aids in distance education. Educational content and knowledge are disseminated through various electronic platforms such as the internet, audio, and videotapes. Institutions need to introduce best practices to ensure distance learners are not left behind in their quest to acquire more knowledge. Modern technologies offer a lot of benefits to different fields of education. However, this is not always a benefit because of a lack of access to these technologies makes it difficult for distance education to achieve its intended objectives (Gürsul & Keser, 2009, p. 2818). This paper will examine major issues associated with technology and distance learning and how they impact on the quality of education offered to learners.
Distance education technologies are growing at a very fast rate. Therefore, developers of educational curriculum and tutors need to develop lesson designs that respond to learners’ needs to achieve good learning outcomes. Tutors need to come up with effective delivery methods that encourage interactions between learners to expose them to new learning approaches. Gürsul and Keser (2009) reveal technology has redefined the roles of various stakeholders in many education sectors (p. 2821). The costs of implementing these technologies when compared to benefits obtained from them have also come under scrutiny. It has become necessary to assess learners’ progress to ensure distance education formats used to improve their understanding of key concepts. The focus on learners has made it possible for designers of educational curriculums to introduce appropriate technologies that support learners to make them more successful in their studies.
Development of Distance Education
Distance education can be described as learning through technological aids that make it possible for a learner and a tutor who are physically separated to exchange ideas. The concept of distance learning became common when radio and TV broadcasts were used to disseminate educational content to students in the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, this form of learning limited participation by students because these media relied on previously recorded materials to teach learners. Learners were not able to interact with instructors, which limited opportunities for beneficial discussions (Lopez, Navarra & Lumbreras, 2012, p. 46). Later on, instructors began sending videotapes and compact discs to learners studying correspondence programs. This form of distance education made it difficult for tutors and learners to interact in real-time.
Advances that have been made in internet technologies have improved access to distance education for many learners spread out in various geographical zones. Lopez, Navarra, and Lumbreras (2012) argue the internet has made it possible for learners to access a wide variety of educational materials (p. 50). This has significantly improved the quality of learning in many places. Students can use e-mails, discussion boards, web pages, teleconferencing, and video blogs to acquire more knowledge from their instructors. This has helped more students to access high-quality education and has encouraged them to get more involved in researching relevant educational literature. This is a departure from previous distance education programs that were mainly done through correspondence. The internet has made it possible for learners and their instructors to interact in real-time to exchange ideas on subjects they are learning. However, there are disparities in access to technology that act as barriers to distance education. These disparities make learners miss out on many opportunities offered by distance learning.
Access to Distance Education
The focus of technology in distance learning has been directed to improving access to learners and instructors. High costs associated with distance learning programs discourage educational institutions from implementing them. They perceive these programs to be more expensive than traditional forms of learning. Many educational institutions offer courses to their students on low budgets, which makes them unable to afford distance education technologies (Chao, 2012, p. 3). Lack of technological compatibility also discourages some institutions from investing in distance education programs. Some learners need high-quality software and a lot of internet bandwidth to stay in touch with their instructors. This makes it difficult for instructors to interact with learners to share ideas that can make the learning experience worthwhile.
Some instructors and learners also have pessimistic attitudes towards distance education. Some instructors rate distance is learning lower than traditional learning due to lack of exposure. Some distance learning courses are poorly designed, and they make it difficult for instructors to disseminate knowledge to learners. This denies distance learners an opportunity to acquire high-quality education compared to their peers who attend lessons in traditional classrooms. Some school administrators focus more on the technology itself rather than course curriculums used to teach distance learners (Chao, 2012, p. 7). This limits the success of distance education programs because tutors’ inputs are not considered. For technology to have a valuable contribution to distance learning, instructors need to be involved in designing educational content to be used to ensure quality is not compromised.
The use of technology in distance education makes it possible for more people to access distance learning in different places. High-quality technological devices improve learners’ access to a wide variety of educational content, which expands their knowledge. In some instances, the adoption of technology as a medium for distance learning may not have the desired effect on young children studying in elementary schools. Children from the ages of three to nine require personalized attention to help them develop literacy skills. A distance education program may not be effective for them because it denies them an opportunity to interact and explore their skills in a suitable learning environment. However, parents can use technology to encourage their children to learn new ideas through games under close supervision (Wengrowicz & Offir, 2013, p. 115). This approach motivates children to explore and discover new ideas on their own.
Educational curriculum designers are looking at various ways they can use to make distance learning one of the main pillars of education. This will enable all distance learners to get positive learning experiences similar to what their counterparts enjoy in physical classrooms. However, it is difficult to teach some technical subjects that require close observation through distance learning technologies. For instance, lessons that involve laboratory experiments require an instructor to be near help learners grasp key concepts easily. Students need to increase their knowledge of various technical subjects to help them discover more ideas on their own (Wengrowicz & Offir, 2013, p. 118). Students should be encouraged to form virtual learning groups with their classmates to help them share beneficial ideas through online platforms. This will encourage them to research more information related to what they are taught by their instructors to expand their knowledge.
Stankov, Glavini, and Krpan (2012) argue educational leaders need to come up with effective plans that ensure technological aids used in distance learning achieve desired objectives (p. 49). They need to collaborate with instructors to ensure curriculum designs adopted for distance learning programs are responsive to learners’ needs and interests. Gaps in quality that exist between distance learning and traditional forms of learning need to be narrowed to ensure distance learners access high-quality education. This can only be achieved if both learners and instructors are equipped with adequate skills to help them utilize technological aids at their disposal effectively. This will encourage learners to research more educational content on their own to increase their knowledge of subjects they are learning. Inadequate technological skills hinder learners and instructors from engaging effectively to improve learning outcomes.
Issues of cost need to be addressed to improve access to distance learning. Modern distance learning systems require both instructors and learners to have access to computers connected to the internet. The government needs to introduce policies that offer incentives to private technology firms to develop low-cost technological devices to be used in education. This will make it possible for educational institutions to offer distance learning programs to various students. Technological equipment chosen for distance learning sessions should encourage collaborations between learners and instructors to achieve desired objectives. Educational institutions need to use different technological platforms to ensure constant interaction between tutors and their students. This will ensure technical problems that negatively impact on the delivery of educational content are addressed. Educational leaders need to formulate effective policies to encourage more people to study distance education courses.
Chao, L. (2012). Deployment of mobile learning course materials to android powered mobile devices. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 3 (1), 1-16.
Gürsul, F., & Keser, H. (2009). The effects of online and face to face problem based learning environments in mathematics education on students’ academic achievement. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1, 2817–2824.
Lopez, E.S., Navarra, P.L., & Lumbreras, C.C (2012). Higher education scenario from a cross-cultural perspective: E-learning implications. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 4 (4), 44-55.
Stankov, S., Glavinic, V., & Krpan, D. (2012) Group modeling in social learning environments. International Journal of Distance Education Technologies, 2 (3), 39-56.
Wengrowicz, N. & Offir, B. (2013). Teachers’ perceptions of transactional distance in different teaching environments. American Journal of Distance Education, 27 (2), 111-121.