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What's behind the development of a course on the concept of distance education?

INTRODUCTION
The article deals with the following problems:

  1. it presents the theoretical strategy used to choose the texts included in the first part of the course called 'La formation à distance, un débat terminologique'.
  2. it examines the students' perception of the literature suggested.
  3. it presents various thoughts surrounding the distance education debate.
IN SEARCH OF A DEFINITION AND A THEORY OF DISTANCE EDUCATION
First of all, it examines the definition of educational technology and points out the similarities and differences between it and distance education.

Educational technology is a combination of many disciplines, and its definition has been coloured through the technological evolution and the contribution of different trends, but most theoricians and practitioners agree on its certain common characteristics:

By examining the different point of views of several authors on the direct relationship between distance education and educational technology, the article establishes that educational technology and distance education share some common grounds: From the analysis of these two concepts, the author of this article share with Keegan(1992) who highlights five distinctions between distance education and educational technology:
  1. Distance education is a form of education, educational technology is not.
  2. In distance education, the technology is a substitute for the teacher. In educational technology the technology is a supplement to the teacher.
  3. Educational technology studies the efficient use of technology for all types of teaching (at a distance and face to face). Distance education does not have this role. Distance education specialists study the use of technology in teaching the 10 million students who chose to study outside of the conventional institutions of their clients.
  4. Distance education studies the problems of students who learn at home or at the office for whom face-to-face group-based communication is entirely, or to a large extent, absent. Educational technology does not in any way abandon face-to-face group-based communication. It does in fact presume the face-to-face group-based communication. It does in fact presume the face-to-face interaction as the basis for information and interpretation of the technology.
  5. Educational technology is different from distance education in terms of cost structures. Educational technology often makes teaching more costly than the teacher without the technology (Teacher + Technology > Teacher). In distance education the technology may make teaching either more costly or less costly depending on the choice of the cost-inducing variables and the volume of students in the program.
The article also concludes that distance education requires help from educational technology to establish which technologies are the most effective economically and pedagogically, but that educational technology is not limited to the use of technology in distance education systems.
Thus educational technology and distance education are similar yet different.

By examining many authors' models on which a theory of distance education could be based, the article divides most of them into two categories: the first group which includes models that analyze distance education based on the motions of student autonomy and independence, and the second group which includes models that analyze distance education based on the notions of interaction and communication.

Then it concludes that whether it be in the name of student autonomy or of student support, the basis of distance education is the separation of teacher and learner, the study of the underlying principles of the distance education has always been done by comparing them with those of conventional teaching, and no global theory of distance education exists yet.

After examining the literature from various sources the author highlights the following elements:

 Facing all these elements in defining distance education, first of all, when they designed their introductory course, they decided to use only the term 'distance education' throughout which covers both teaching at a distance and learning at a distance. Teaching at a distance refers to course design and student support activities, while learning at a distance describes learning activities that occur far from the teaching institution or the teacher. Then they presented the students with the literature dealing with the issue. In order for the students to arrive at a definition of distance education, they reviewed the literature and grouped the authors in one of these two premises according to how they developed their arguments and their definitions: STUDENT PERCEPTIONS
By presenting some of the students' points of views on the terminological debate surrounding distance education after the course was completed, edited and delivered to the students, the author generalises that the students produced three characteristics of distance education that they agree with:
  1. The main characteristic of distance education is distance - on other words, the temporal, spatial or psychosocial separation. This separation does not necessarily imply the lack of personal or direct contact between students and teachers. However this contact is modified; it is through the use of communication techniques that the transmission of information, teaching, and student support is assured.
  2. The use of media (whether it's called technical support, delivery methods, technology, or media) is necessary for the delivery of knowledge or to ensure student support.
  3. Communication between the student and the teacher (tutor, counselor, or institution), whether it be delayed by mail or real time by telephone, through face-to-face meeting, videoconferences, etc. must be present.
CONCLUSION
Relying on student input during audioconferences and on their own teaching experience and research in the field, the author presents the following thoughts:
  1. All the definitions of distance education were coloured by the authors' experience and their philosophy of education. Each definition reflects a precise image of distance education or what the author would like it to be. And distance education is still an evolving field and will probably stay this way for a long time since each technological change forces us to re-examine the practice and the theoretical foundations of distance education.
  2. Distance is still at the heart of distance education. Distance is what makes the difference between distance education and other modes of teaching. Without distance the use of media would no longer remain compulsory to establish the relationship between students and teachers.
  3. Without the use of media, distance education could not exist.
  4. Distance education offers a variety of teaching modes related to the technology used. There does not exist an ideal mode of distance education and technological advances simply allow us to diversify our approach without necessarily finding the one best approach that is all things to all people.