Distance education is a system and process that connects learners and instructors with educational resources from a variety of geographically separate sites using a variety of different media. Students and instructors are separated from each other by either distance of time. Two-way communication exists between the learner, instructor, and other learners either through print or some form of electronic media.
Though modern technologies have drawn more attention to the potential available through distance learning more, it is not a new idea. Correspondence courses date back to the 1800’s with students receiving materials from their instructors, completing prescribed assignments, and returning then to the instructor for written feedback. Since that time, however, telephone lines, satellites, video and other electronic advances have made it possible to communicate with any number of individuals or groups instantaneously in remote areas at relatively little expense.
Now with the aid of computers, students can complete formal education requirements in the comfort of their homes at any time drawing information from traditional sources as well as through the innumerable resources available through the Internet.
Life in the late 90’s and a new decade imposes pressures and demands on adults to balance home and family life, highly stressful job demands, and diverse social responsibilities in a rapidly changing technological environment. Few individuals have the luxury of devoting several years of their lives to being a full-time student. In addition, most higher education opportunities are readily available in large urban areas with only a limited number of complete programs available at distance campuses.
Distance learning enables students to eliminate long commutes, take courses designed with adult learning styles in mind, and take courses at non-work times. Many distance-learning modalities allow for a high degree of interaction with the instructor and other students allowing for a complete learning experience equal to and in some cases superior to on campus programs.
Motivated students with a rich background of experiences find distance education offers them the flexibility they need to manage their daily responsibilities while completing needed training and continuing education needs.
Distance learning is not confined to specific times and spaces. It encourages the use of community resources and student creativity to enrich the content offered through the distance learning technology. Carefully designed distance learning opportunities can expose students to more information and content than many face-to-face classes, significant interaction with faculty and peers, contact with other students from diverse backgrounds and locations, and even access to renown experts in the field regardless of location.
With new advances in electronic technology, distance-learning students can expect to get quality education comparable to education received in face-to-face classes. However, adjusting to new formats for teaching and the use of electronic equipment can present challenges for students who have been out of the formal education setting for a number of years.
Online courses like the one you are about to participate in require a basic but working knowledge of computers and the Internet. This online course provides you with a written tutorial, a guided tour, telephone assistance, and an in-person orientation to the process of negotiating the classroom. Even with these supports in place, it is likely that students will experience some frustration from time to time related to the functioning of the equipment.
In spite of everyone’s best efforts, technical difficulties can arise. It is important to remember that online courses offer many avenues for making up lost time. Even though your live participation is preferable, transcripts of all sessions can be made available so that no content is missed.
Students living in rural areas often choose distance learning because of the lack of educational programs within a reasonable commute from home. Even distance learning options cannot bring libraries and research facilities to remote areas. This course offers access to all of the resources available through the Internet, selected readings, and access to journal articles through web links and University library services.
Even though distance learning is an old concept, higher education continues to follow a residency model in which students spend a portion of their programs on campus. Traditional instructional techniques involve lecture, classroom attendance, and group teaching. Few faculty are hired specifically as distance educators and those faculty who do teach at a distance do so in addition to a regular class load.
Classes like the one you are about to participate in take a great deal of time to develop and to conduct. For these and other reasons, the number of courses available to students through distance education is very limited. Students considering taking coursework from a variety of universities should be aware that credits may not be transferable toward a degree at any one institution.
Adult learners have different needs than younger learners. Adults enrolled in graduate level courses tend to be people who have had a broad range of experiences including employment histories that have provided them with a vast background of skills and knowledge. They also have a plate full of other responsibilities and concerns that compete for their attention such as family, financial, and work-related obligations. Few adult learners can afford to quit a job to dedicate several years to their formal education. Adults are task-oriented and are interested in learning new information that has immediate applications to their jobs or personal goals. Information gained for the sake of having new information is rarely retained and often rejected. In reality, you and your fellow students may be taking this course to fulfill continuing education requirements or job mandates that require additional college coursework for certification, licensure, and advancement.
You are likely to find yourself very uncomfortable in learning activities that require you to learn a brand new skill which is totally unrelated to anything you have ever learned or done before. Adults find it difficult to memorize lists of information and try to understand new concepts by linking them to concepts they have already mastered. For instance, if you have never used a computer before, you would likely expect it to work much like a television set or typewriter. You might attempt to turn on the computer by first turning on the monitor which matches your understanding of the television’s technology. You would discover that the screen would light up but would not look the same as it looked yesterday with your data windows appearing. Now suppose you call me and ask for help. I give you a long verbal list of things to do. Somewhere in that list, I would expect that you would say, "Wait!!! Slow down!!!! One thing at a time!!! Let me master one thing before you tell me what the next step is!" Adults learn new unfamiliar skills the same way that children do. They master one step and then add the next step to the list, mastering the two-step sequence, and then the third, etc. But adults are so accustomed to having an experiential background to draw upon that having to revert to this younger style of learning feels unnatural, laborious, and frustrating.
You will make your own connections and discover your own applications based on your own experiences, interpretation of the material, feedback from others, and your personal needs.
The other key factor built into this course to specifically meet your adult learning needs is FLEXIBILITY. There are course specifications, required assignments, etc. as there would be with any course. Your adherence to deadlines makes it possible for you receive feedback in a timely manner, master certain concepts before moving along to a new topic, and participate with your peers in meaningful discussions of the material. Your timely preparation of assignments will make the class more enriching to everyone.
Members of this learning community will come to depend on your presence and contributions as you will on theirs. You will however have access to your course 24 hours a day, seven days a week! You can find my lecture at your leisure, can call me via e-mail at any time (although I may not always answer immediately. I too am an adult with other responsibilities), and can have immediate access to your classmates through the same medium. Our Student Union chat room is always open as are our other facilities and you may use them at any time that they are not scheduled for use in a formal class session. If you have a small group project due and your group decides to meet at 2:00AM on Friday evening, you can do that from the comfort of your own home.
Working from home for the office requires a unique kind of commitment and self discipline. There are always going to be a variety of distractions to keep you from concentrating fully on what your coursework. The adult format allows you to work at your own pace and even to procrastinate your assignments until the last minute. Doing this will not only shortchange you but the others in your group. You will need to develop good work habits and time management skills to successfully complete your course.
One of the problems with working via the Internet is that you will find the process very addicting. You are likely to begin surfing for information pertaining to class and find yourself floating aimlessly but happily for hours on the lazy sea of cyberspace. Online chats are a wonderful social event and you can find yourself building lifelong friendships with people you have never even seen. I encourage you to limit your time on the computer and go soak up the sun and socialization with live people regularly. I do not want to be responsible for your tailor’s slouch, your carpal tunnel, your vision problems, or your depression!!! Like any other graduate student, you need to take care of yourself.
If you are not an experienced Web surfer, the technology may be a bit overwhelming at first. Some of your classmates may be more sophisticated in their surfing skills, faster on the keyboard, better spellers, etc. Try not to let this bother you. I have built in many ways for you to pick up things you may have missed and many ways to let me know that things are happening too quickly for you. Remember, even the brightest adult learner becomes like a child when learning a new skill. You can expect me to make many very visible mistakes in our time together and you can expect that my technology may also fall apart at times. You will have a variety of makeup assignments which will allow you to keep pace with the class even if you unable to access the classroom.
Much of the learning task of adults involves mastery of the process of accumulating and integrating new skills and information into their daily work routines. The ability to use computers and access information available through the World Wide Web is becoming more and more necessary in most professions. This course will not only teach you important content but will allow you to become a part of the community of worldwide learners of the new millennium.
Department of Neuropsychiatry & Behavioral Science
Medical Park 15, Suite 018