Distance learning technologies offer a myriad of benefits for K-12 education, including convenience, flexibility, effectiveness, and efficiency.
Distance learning technologies can provide convenient locations for both students and instructors. Many of the technologies, such as the Internet and telephone, are easily accessed at home. Others, such as videoconferencing, can be distributed from a single point (such as a university) to multiple remote sites (such as schools). Satellite transmissions can be viewed at specified sites, or the transmissions can be recorded for later viewing at home or school.
Many forms of distance learning provide students the option to participate whenever they wish, on an individualized basis. For example, some students may want to review a podcast in the middle of the night or read their e-mail during early morning hours. In addition, one student may wish to spend 30 minutes reviewing a website, while another spends an hour.
Not only is distance learning convenient, it is also effective. Several research studies have found that distance learning is equally or more effective than traditional instruction when the method and technologies used are appropriate to the instructional tasks, when there is student-to-student interaction and when there is timely teacher-to-student feedback (Moore & Thompson, 1990; Verduin & Clark, 1991).
Many forms of distance learning involve little or no cost. For example, almost all of the homes in the United States have televisions and many are connected to a cable-TV service. For these homes, it is relatively easy for the students to watch a public broadcast television show or educational documentary. In addition, almost all homes have access to a telephone and/or the Internet, enabling the use of voicemail and audioconferencing.
One of the benefits of distance learning is that there is a wide variety of materials that can meet everyone’s learning preference — at least part of the time. For example, some students learn from visual stimuli, such as video, and others learn best by listening or interacting with a computer program. If distance learning courses are well designed, they will likely offer learners a wide range of choices, thereby providing the optimal combinations of interaction and media.
Contrary to popular opinion, distance learning courses can offer increased interactions with students. In particular, introverted students who are too shy to ask questions in class will often “open up” when provided the opportunity to interact via e-mail or other individualized means (Franklin, Yoakam, & Warren, 1996). Through the increased interactions, teachers can better meet individual student’s needs.
Educational inequity is a major issue in this and other countries. Rural schools often have less contact with educational trends, fewer qualified teachers, and more need for technology. Distance learning offers great potential for alleviating these issues and has been employed very effectively in Canada and Australia — two countries with geographically diverse student populations.