Historical aspects of distance education

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

Author: Bordiyanu Ilona, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

Distance education allows realization of two fundamental principles of modern education - education for all "and" lifelong education".

Conditions for the existence of humanity on the threshold of the XXI century require a transition to a new strategy of society development based on knowledge and highly educational technologies. Under these conditions, one of the major problems of the world community is the educational system formation and making it meet the challenges of the time. The feature of the educational system in the beginning of the XXI century must be the greater availability of education provided by the extensive use of new educational technologies, including distance learning and self-education using information and telecommunication technologies.

Strategically, distance learning can be called the educational system of the XXI century. The results of the scientific progress, previously concentrated on technology, today is concentrated in the information sphere. Professional knowledge become obsolete very quickly, it must be continuously improved. Distance form of education allows you creating a system of continuous learning, sharing information worldwide and providing a system of equal opportunities for all, regardless of social status and geographical location. It is able to respond flexibly to the needs of society and ensure the implementation of the constitutional right to education.

Today distance education is the subject of research. Every day brings new techniques. The specialized seminars and scientific conferences on this subject are conducted. On the Internet you can find a lot of resources about distance learning programs.

But, despite this, distance learning is not a new phenomenon. Accelerated degree programs have been widespread for many years. One of the newest trends is the instructional television, but, nevertheless, it has decades of existence. At the present time we feel a "virtual rush" of distance learning because of the appearance of the Internet.

Over the past few years the popularity of Web-based technologies has increased, the same way as free access to the Internet has influenced the increase of the number of Internet users. With the Internet, we can enjoy direct access to various resources media worldwide. The potential of Web-based technologies necessitates existence of teachers, as these technologies make it possible to combine educational resources scattered around the world, something similar to “bespoke” multimedia databases created for their own educational goals.

Distance learning is widely taking advantage of the new information and communication technology, allowing education to enter the mainstream of the queries posed by the emerging information society, as the future of education is for distance learning.

History tells us that Christ gathered disciples and taught them to his faith. His teaching spread as far as possible, and his apostles, including St. Paul recorded the lectures, and they distributed them among the priests and asked them to read these lectures in parishes. Therefore the question: who is the founder of distance education - Russia, Britain or other countries - (and such discussions have recently taken place) - can be considered closed - distance education has been known since ancient times and is inherently international.

If we talk about distance education as a philosophy, methodology, then it may be noted that it’s been a long time since people strove to organize distance learning, learning not only in the classroom, in the presence of the lecturer. At the heart of the development of distance learning there is the principle of separation of the university and the student.

Next there are two directions: the first (a form of asynchronous learning) – is a remote student. This trend has historically taken shape as an accelerated degree program. The second direction (synchronous learning, or distance learning in the modern sense) – is the remote class, teaching it for a synchronous interaction between the tutor and a group of students. Here it is clear that synchronous and asynchronous learning fundamentally different, but they are interlinked and reinforce each other.

The idea of learning from others at a distance is not new. In 1840 Isaac Pitman through the mail began to teach stenography students in the United Kingdom, becoming, thus, the ancestor of the first distance education course. In the 50’s of XIX century in Germany, Gustav Langenshaydt published his "educational letters" as a tutorial in the language for adults.

An opportunity to receive higher education at a distance appeared in 1836, when in the United Kingdom University of London was founded. Students that had been studying at the accredited educational institutions were allowed to pass examinations conducted by the University. Beginning with 1858, these examinations were open to candidates from around the world, regardless of where and how they were educated. This situation led to a number of colleges offering courses by mail in accordance with the university program.

In the 70’s of XIX century in America several steps to distance learning were taken, for example in 1873, Anna Eliot Ticknor (Ticknor's Society), took as a basis the British program «Society for the Encouragement of Home Study», and in 1874, a training program was offered by Illinois State University.

In Pennsylvania, a daily newspaper entitled "Koleri Inzhinie" started publishing educational materials aimed at improving the technology of mining and preventing accidents in mines. These publications were popular and had a great success; so in 1891 there was designed an independent course, which served as a model for training programs to mail a variety of subjects. William Rainey Harper is considered America's "father of education by mail» in 1892 established the first university department of distance learning at the University of Chicago, began experimenting with extra-curricular teaching at the Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1906, teaching by mail was introduced at the University of Wisconsin.

Quite early distance education appeared in Australia. In 1911, the university-level courses began its work in the University of Queensland in Brisbane. In 1914 training was provided by mail to the program of primary school children living away from regular schools. Students of Teachers' College in Melbourne conducted their lessons, using e-mail. Soon this practice spread to secondary schools and technical colleges. Similar systems have been used for students in Canada and New Zealand. In 1938, in Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) the first meeting of International Council for Correspondence Education was hosted.

After the 1917 revolution distance education began to develop in Russia. It offered various courses at various levels. A special "consultative" model of distance education was developed in the Soviet Union, the name of which literally meant "education without visual contact (accelerated degree program). By the 60’s of XX century in the USSR there were 11 accelerated degree universities and many accelerated degree faculties in traditional universities. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union followed the example of other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

A State Center for distance learning via mail services was established in Western Europe, France in 1939, for the purpose of training children who could not attend school, (Centre National d'Enseignement à Distance, CNED). Now, this center has become the largest institution of distance education in Europe. In 1946, University of South Africa, UNISA made a transition to distant learning.

Founded in 1969 Open University of the United Kingdom, UKOU has had a tremendous impact on the system of distance education: educational institutions, leading distance learning, appeared in a number of countries mainly in Europe and Asia. Among them there is Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) in Spain (1972), Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) in Pakistan (1974), Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (STOU) in Thailand (1978), Korea National Open University, (KNOU) in Korea (1982), Universitas Terbuka (UT) in Indonesia (1984) and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in India (1985).

History courses by mail and distance learning demonstrate the existence of several stable characteristics of this form of training. Distance education provides a full range of skill levels from basic to higher education and is aimed at people of different ages: from infants to middle-aged people. Range of disciplines taught this way is unusually wide. Methods applied are no less varied and include correspondence, the use of printed materials, radio and television, workshops and public examinations. Distance education systems are organized in both developed and developing countries, in large as well as in small countries.

Problems, social and historical turmoil that caused the emergence of these systems are different: the geographically dispersed or displaced populations, imperialism and independence, wars and revolutions, industrialization. In the new millennium because of the movement of humanity towards the informational society distance education will play an increasingly significant role, demonstrating its flexibility and variety of forms.

If we look at the history of distance education at a certain angle, we can see that the progress made in the course of its development achievements belongs to several "generations". Garrison (1985) and Nipper (1989) were among the first who used the term "generation" to describe the three stages of development of distance education, "which are historically associated with the development of production, transport and communication technologies."

The most of "first generation" distance education were handwritten and printed material. Manuscripts were used for many centuries. The emergence of printing made it possible to issue low-cost textbooks. Since the middle of the XIX century, extensive railway system and rapid and efficient public postal service would deliver educational materials to a large number of geographically dispersed students. In addition to shared textbooks a limited edition of special teaching aids was issued, which included lists of required literature and sample questions selected by the leading teaching instructors in the mail.

The invention of radio in the 20’s of XX century led to the radio courses consisting of a series of interviews. Sometimes these courses were supplemented by printed materials and classes. In the 50’s television courses were actively developed and coupled with the release of textbooks, classroom, and from time to time exam supervision.

The emergence of Open University of the United Kingdom, UKOU in 1969 marked the beginning of the "second generation". At this point distance education began to adopt an integrated approach to learning using the variety of tools, where printed materials had a dominant position. Open University of the United Kingdom developed a huge number of high-quality teaching materials specifically designed for distance learning. One-sided interaction of University with students was done via printed material, supplemented by radio and TV shows (audio tapes were extended later). Two-way interaction between tutors and students was carried out through correspondence, face to face consultations, and short courses domiciliary. This model was highly valued in the preparatory phase. However, after all the necessary materials and training programs for each new student were created, that did not require a lot of expenditures.

"Third generation" of distance education based on the active use of information and communication technologies, offered two-way communication in various forms (text, graphics, sound, animation) both synchronously (“in the same time "- in the form of video or audiographic conferences, that was equally popular in North American educational institutions) and asynchronously (not at the same time - using the e-mail, Internet or teleconferencing). These technologies can be used as a supplement to a course in first-and second-generation, or used independently. In both cases, they can facilitate the interaction between mentor and student, between student and student and between student and different types of learning resources. Reducing the initial investment in the development and implementation of technology, the model of distance education can reduce the initial fixed costs, however, variable costs (for example, for each student) will be higher than the distance education for the second model.

Development of distance education is experiencing a significant influence of various factors, among which there are efforts to spread higher education, the emergence of distance education of the second generation and increased government spending. Some impact is also changing the nature of the workforce: to improve career opportunities for people seeking a second degree or upgrade their skills. Obvious solution to this situation can be distance format of education.

Relatively new phenomenon is the involvement of the state in the active planning of higher education. Up until the mid XX century, efforts were focused on universal coverage of secondary education. This problem was basically solved in most (alas, not all) countries in the mid 60's. Since that time the goal was set to improve access to higher education for the masses, expanding continuing educational programs, improving professional skills and training. Equally essential tasks required for innovative solutions served as impetus to searching for new, innovative forms of organization in higher education.

In the 60’s attention of those responsible was drawn to look for opportunities to make education more democratic and professional. Distance education was a means of providing educational services to a wide range of people who want to learn, but who are unable or unwilling to devote their time to teaching in the traditional form. Didactic foundations of higher education could be greatly expanded to include alternative initiation to knowledge, in which the students were trained to self-control and supervision of institutions of higher education.

The main factor in determining the status and quality of distance education has been the creation of Open University of the United Kingdom. This event was important for the practice of distance learning and demonstrated the implementation of the media in the learning process.

In September 1963 Harold Wilson, a leader of Labor Party, proposed the idea of creating "Essential University”, which would have combined learning with capabilities of radio and television. This idea came after Wilson met with the organization of distance learning in the USSR and television education in the U.S., which enjoyed great success. However, the proposal did not receive support and was even ridiculed.

In spite of many opponents, in June 1969 the royal charter left, giving the University the status of an independent and autonomous institution with the right to issue diplomas and academic degrees. In January, 1971, 25,000 students were enrolled at the first year of the University.

The emergence of Open University of the United Kingdom and its recognition as a full and competent university was the impetus in many countries whose governments had a powerful argument in favor of non-traditional ways of development of higher education. This argument was used extensively in discussions with supporters of academic traditions. Educational institutions, similar to Open University of the United Kingdom, began to appear in different parts of the world, and the state played a leading role in their creation.

Later, under pressure from the government and as a result of competition for students, many traditional universities revised their structure, curriculum and programs, forms and methods of learning, realizing the necessity of using new technologies and introduction of distance learning courses.

Increased public spending, public pressure and demands of time resulted in the 60’s – 70’s in increase of government allocations for higher education. The apparent success of widespread implementation of distance forms of teaching through the establishment of Open University of the United Kingdom, persuaded the governments of different countries to invest in the development of both new and traditional educational institutions, contributing to the spread and diversification of teaching methods.

Attitude toward education in society also changed. It came to be regarded as a major factor of economic growth and social development, contributing to solving national and global issues. Both developed and developing countries have seen in education the formation of a guarantee of their future prosperity. While developed countries have tried to retain and strengthen its position in the global market, developing countries had a task to overcome the chasm that separates them from developed countries in economic and social plans. The processes of globalization and economic competition between countries led to competition in technological and scientific fields and create a need for skilled manpower. Field of education is one of the first places in the list of investment priorities, involving both public and private investment.

The history of distance education clearly demonstrates the adequacy of its new needs of society, associated with education, and relevance in different countries.

It also worth pointing that it is just one model of the historical development of distance education. There are others that represent alternatives to the development of distance education.

It is believed that the first attempt to create a distance form of education was undertaken by Jan Comenius 350 years ago, when he introduced illustrated books into a broad educational practice. He also created the basis for a systemic approach to education, wrote his Great didactics. Many researchers acknowledge his ancestor of distance education.

At the end of XIX century there was correspondent training that was a progenitor of distance education. Now the student could send their written work to teacher and receive comments and a new batch of books by e-mail. These changes occurred because of the appearance of regular mail service. To those who lived far from major cities and could not learn in conventional schools this way of teaching was popular. For many people it was the only way to get a serious education.

The history of distance education has the Soviet roots. During the contacts between the countries of the former coalition, UK scientists were interested in the Soviet experience of distance education. In Britain, it was decided to form such a system of education. The British Government has allocated significant investments for this project. Curricula, programs, training manuals and educational technology were developed.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson took personal control over the project of the world's first University of Distance Education - Open University. The Open University was established by the Queen and the Speaker of the House of Commons was appointed as the rector. Everything was done for the university to become both massive and prestigious.

Currently, the development of distance learning is influenced by two major factors: access to the Internet and its quality. Typically, millions of users simultaneously use the Internet. The higher is the number of people working simultaneously on the Internet the worse is the performance. However, those students who have the advanced quality of Internet connections are able to work with volume graphics Web-sites, good quality audio, and even a small amount of video data. These people will have the best quality. However, the material to reach each individual student should be mostly in the form of text, but in some cases it is too restrictive. There are also people who do not have access to the Internet because they do not have it at all, or a place where they can access the Internet, is not a good fit for study.

Another issue is that distance learning should be interactive. Students should be able to communicate with teachers. In the analysis of many existing learning systems is often found that the interaction is limited to an opportunity to move through the system, and postal communication with the lecturer and other students. At present, the possibility of a good quality connection is not sufficient.

But, despite all the pros and cons, today we can say that the emergence of distance learning as a new and efficient technology in education are located in Kazakhstan at the stage of intensive, but a complex development. Many universities of the republic to some degree or another are involved in the process of creating conditions for development of distance education. Naturally, Kazakh American Free University has been active in introducing into the learning process of modern educational technologies. Since 2003 Kazakh American Free University provides opportunity of taking distance learning courses from such universities as Seattle Pacific University, Indiana Wesleyan University, Letourneau University, and receiving as a result a certificate of a Western type. Also in 2006 Kazakh American Free University began to cooperate and to continue working on the distance form of learning with Tyumen State University, one of the most dynamic classical universities of Russia, based on the best traditions of national science and education.

To sum it up, we can say that distance learning is now in demand and, consequently, will develop rapidly as a modern, affordable and efficient way to gain knowledge. This is the essential component in the standard training at Kazakh American Free University, which will further strengthen the position of the university in the education market, since this has all the possibilities, both technically and intellectually.


1. www.dist-edu.ru

2. www.hse.ru

3. www.ui.usm.ru

4. kampi.ksr.ru

5. www.distancelearning.com

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

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