There is little doubt that a more extensive on-line education system would benefit extremely overcrowded campuses like Cal State Northridge. Although short-term costs may deter colleges from implementing distance learning programs initially, many colleges could save money in the long run. With the technology available, universities should make more efforts to offer more on-line classes. Distance learning is becoming more and more prevalent across campuses and is likely to continue to grow. In this paper, I will address recent criticism of the distance learning process and present material in support of this increasing phenomenon.
Distance learning is taught in several ways. Originally, distance, or “Independent learning, a descendant of correspondence study, used printed materials and mail-in assignments to provide access to geographically isolated individuals” (Miller). This, however, has been replaced by on-line classes with the advent of the Internet. Mathew Mariani describes the most common approach in an article comparing an on-line course with a traditional in-classroom lecture. The material for the course is the same but it is presented via streaming video. For the on-line course, the lecture was recorded with a digital camera and downloaded by students from their personal computers. As Mariani states, “The video plays in a small window, and a slide show recreating classroom visual aids displays in a larger window. The slides advance in sync with the video lecture.” According to a study reported by Scott Dellana on performance factors, “. . .courses with the on-line option have been found to be as effective as the traditional course.”
Today, there are an ever-increasing number of colleges using distance learning but even more should be offered. Western Governors University and the University of Phoenix (UoP) are the most renown for their “non-traditional higher education institutions” (Paulson). “UoP enrolled about 75,000 students in 2000 with around 16% enrolling in completely asynchronous online instruction” (Paulson). A study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics noted by Lewis, Snow, and Farris in 1999 found that “. . .the percentage of colleges and universities offering distance education courses increased form 11% in 1995 to 44% in 1998” (Paulson). In addition, “It has been estimated that by the year 2003, 60% of learners in higher education will access content electronically” (Paulson). This increase shows the increase in colleges offering on-line courses but the percentage of courses that are offered on-line is still very low. Opponents stress the value of the traditional classroom educational approach and argue the lack of teacher-student interaction in the virtual setting.
There are several reported disadvantages to the on-line approach. “Ostendorf, in an informal study of 12 distance education courses at New Mexico State University, found that instructors devoted only 2.85...