What's behind the development of a course on the concept
of distance education?
This article deals with the following problems:
First of all 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'. Second, it examines the students'
perception of the literature suggested. Third, it presents various thoughts
surrounding the distance education debate.
IN SEARCH OF A DEFINITION AND A THEORY OF DISTANCE EDUCATION
It examined the definition of educational technology and pointed 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 certain common characteristics of it:
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:
Human learning is an objective:
Systematic approach (pedagogical design)
Use of media
From the analysis of these two concepts, the author of this article shares
with Keegan(1992) who highlights five distinctions between distance education
and educational technology:
the systematic procedure used to structure, to choose media and to deliver
distance education, which can be viewed as the industrialisation of distance
the choice of media which is also one of the essential features of distance
education: the use of media to re-establish the link between the student
and the source of knowledge;
the systems approach which is the preferred approach for this form of complex
the objective to encourage human learning, the common goal of educational
technology and of distance education.
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.
Distance education is a form of education, educational technology is not.
In distance education, the technology is a substitute for the teacher.
In educational technology the technology is a supplement to the teacher.
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.
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.
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 programme.
Thus educational technology and distance education are similar yet
A LOOK AT THE DIFFERENT THEORIES OF DISTANCE EDUCATION
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 analyse distance education based
on the motions of student autonomy and independence, and the second group
which includes models that analyse distance education based on the notions
of interaction and communication.
Then it concludes that whether it is 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.
DEFINING DISTANCE EDUCATION: NOT A MEAN FEAT
By examining the literature from various sources the author highlights
the following elements:
There is a wide sphere of definitions of distance education. Each definition
is formulated according to the contexts and the authors involved
The rapid evolution of applications in distance education has created a
certain amount of terminological confusion.
Despite the divergent views there are come constants: communication, distance
( in terms of time and/or space), the use of media or technologies, planning
At present, distance education stands as an umbrella concept covering correspondence
courses, televised teaching, radio-broadcast teaching, open learning, compute-assisted
instruction, telematic, individualised learning and self-learning.
Distance education is viewed differently by many authors depending on their
personal vision of education, of teaching and of learning.
For the last ten years, distance education has distanced itself from broadcast-type
media and has embraced technologies that offer interactive and individualised
Finally, the authors cannot agree upon a common definition.
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:
Distance education is individualised teaching with limited teacher-student
interaction; the student is separated from the teacher in time and space
and therefore learns autonomously. This option includes authors who
analysed correspondence study, one-way multi-media courses and two-way
student support. They chose the following authors to represent this position:
Rumble (1989a), Keegan (1988), Holmberg(1989).
Technological innovations, especially digitalized technologies (interactive
television, telewriters, etc.) have reduced the gap between face-to-face
teaching and distance education by providing a wide range of communication
possibilities to the institution willing to establish interaction with
the distant learner. These technologies include two-way multi-media student
support systwms ( computer-assisted conferences, audioconferences). They
chose the following authors to represent this position: Shale (1988), Garrison
(1989), Barker et al. (1989).
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:
The main characteristic of distance education is distance - in other cords,
the temporal, spatial or psycho-social 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.
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.
Communication between the student and the teacher ( tutor, counsellor,
or institution), whether it be delayed by mail or real time by telephone,
through face-to-face meetings, videoconferences, etc. must be present.
Relying on student input during audioconferences and on their own teaching
experience and research in the field, the author presents the following
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
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.
Without the use of media, distance education could not exist.
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.