1. What Is Distance Learning?
Distance learning is a way of learning remotely. It can be defined as a method of studying specifically designed for students who are separated from teachers or assistants by physical distance. Distance learning is carried out by means of the Internet and web technologies.
Distance learning is often associated with the term E-learning. The term E-learning is one of many terms containing the prefix ‘E-‘ that is frequently mentioned in recent times. More and more users use E-banking and E-commerce services, as well as often heard terms such as E-government, E- health service, and E-judiciary. Thus, the programme aims to transform society in an Information Society. Generally, the prefix “E-” (Electronic) indicates the performance of certain activities via Information and communication technology (ICT).
Accordingly, E-learning can be defined as electronic learning performed via information and communication technologies like computers and the Internet.
There are several different definitions of E-learning, depending on various professions and experiences of people who use them. These definitions are often classified into two groups:
a) technical definitions with emphasis placed on technology (the “E” part of the name), e.g.
“E-learning is any form of learning, teaching and education that is supported by the use of computer technology, with emphasis on computer networks that are based on Internet technologies.”
b) pedagogical definitions with emphasis placed on education, that is, teaching and learning (“learning” part of the name), e.g.
“E-Learning is an interactive or two-way process between teachers and students with the help of electronic media where emphasis is put on the learning process while the completion of the process is performed by means of media.”
Distance learning has greatly improved in the past few years, mainly through the development of computer networks, particularly the development of Internet hypermedia services WWW. Nowadays, the term distance learning is very often replaced with the term On-line learning, which emphasises a special form of E-learning or E-education.
2. Components of Distance Learning
Distance learning model used at the University “Vitez” Vitez consists of three main components:
a) Learning Management System – LMS
This system contains components for the advancement of learning by means of interlinking all forms of learning with the existing IT system. Software forming the basis of LMS manages all elements of teaching and records all parameters necessary for process monitoring. Based on these parameters, it is possible to monitor the progress of each student or group at any time and precisely measure and analyse their success at the end of the process.
Content is the key part of the learning process. Our University provides students with On-line texts and presentations accompanied by audio/video recordings.
c) Collaboration Modules
Distance learning is implemented through a distance learning system. Students may access this system via the Internet by means of user data assigned to them during admissions to this type of studies. Furthermore, students may use their e-mails, or forums (questions / answers / comments) and chat rooms (direct discussion). During admissions to distance learning programmes, students will be assigned own e-mail accounts created on the University domain (unvi.edu.ba), e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org, in order to communicate with teaching personnel and professional services.
3. Advantages of Distance Learning
One of the greatest advantages of distance learning is that it allows continuous learning and professional development. Students independently decide on time, place and pace of learning. Furthermore, students have at their disposal a large number of subjects and different study programmes.
Thus, it may be said that the advantages of distance learning are:
3.1. Own pace
Students can go through learning materials at their own pace and as many times they want. They can go faster through simple lessons and take more time for more complex and demanding lessons.
3.2. Place for learning
Depending on media used for distribution of learning materials through a distance learning system, students can learn in places that best suit them. Thus, students can be at home or at work and access information available via the Internet, send and receive e-mail messages, etc.
3.3. Way of learning
Everyone has their own way of learning. Some students prefer active, while others prefer passive learning. Lectures via distance learning allow different degrees of interaction between teachers and students, and among students as well. Some students study independently by reading materials, making notes and performing required tasks. Some students learn better if they participate in discussions with other students by using e-mails, teleconferencing or videoconferencing. Some students prefer multimedia elements such as graphics, animation, and sounds while learning. Thus, the most appropriate courses for them are the ones realised through the WWW services and the Internet.
3.4. Practical work with various technologies
Distance learning system relies on various technologies, such as computers, CD players, VCRs, etc. Therefore, students acquire knowledge and skills on the usage of these technologies as well.
3.5. Independent learning
In addition to all materials for learning, distance learning students are encouraged to independently explore new sources of information. They gather more information in order to gain knowledge in a particular area, or to successfully cope with a particular skill. Students are usually very motivated and want to solve tasks.
The advantage of distance learning is studying in your own time. Students can study 24 hours a day, because they have access to teaching materials via distance learning system seven days a week.
3.7. Communication with teachers and assistants
New technologies enable high quality and fast communication with teachers and assistants, especially by means of audio and video recordings of lectures, e-mails, telephone, etc.
The biggest challenge or problem with E-learning is assuring students to enrol in on-line study programmes, to actively participate in the teaching process and to successfully complete their studies. This type of study greatly depends on different technologies (besides the fact that making of e-learning contents takes too much time).
Some e-learning programmes do not succeed; students sometimes give up and do not complete their studies. At the beginning of the e-learning development, degree of students’ withdrawals was even more than 60 %. Today, that number is much smaller.
There are many reasons for this failure. One of the biggest problems is the very nature of e-learning or on-line learning. Unlike traditional learning, it is easy to give up because students are not expected to join “classes”, where they meet their colleagues and teachers. Instead, they make the most from their working place or home. Taking into account that students are usually too busy and burdened with numerous other responsibilities, it takes a very high level of self-discipline and motivation to conscientiously carry out their e-learning tasks. In doing so, the lack of live contact may produce the sense of loneliness and isolation in students.
Because of these disadvantages in e-learning system, it is necessary to pay special attention to the motivation of students, and to engage teachers in monitoring of their progress. Teachers ought to support and help students in learning, and encourage them to complete their tasks.
The disadvantages of distance learning also include technologies used in the process of teaching. All students should have appropriate technologies at their disposal, such as computers with the latest version of a Web browser, Internet connection, etc.
Problems may be caused by utilizing technologies unknown to students and teachers. Very often, it is necessary to invest additional time in order to learn new technologies used for teaching and learning in distance learning system. However, distance learning technologies become simpler each day and can be used by students with basic knowledge on computers.
4. Technical requirements for users (students)
Students should have the following technical features at their disposal in order to study by distance learning:
b. Internet access (ADSL or other fast connection)
c. Internet browser
d. Word processing and presentation software (Microsoft Office or Open Office)
e. PDF reader (Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader)
f. Programme for watching on-line audio / video contents and flash animation (Flash player)
All technical elements can be easily obtained and are inexpensive (except computers).