9a v). Discuss the benefits of distance education in the teaching process.
9.7 Advantages of distance education
Distance education has several advantages. In this section we shall discuss the following advantages:
First, distance education is useful where there is political or to her pressures to expand education (Tony Dodds: 6). There are occasions when the government makes policy changes in areas such as curriculum, access to education or even the structure of education. There will need to implement the new policy. In such cases, it becomes necessary to find a method of transmitting information to the would be implementers urgently. At times it may be that personnel need to be in serviced quickly to manage the change. The government could even be confronted with thousands of school leavers with no option of furthering their education. It may be easier to address the pressure to expand the opportunities through distance education.
Secondly, distance education can be used to train teachers and other professionals without withdrawing them from their regular work (Tony Dodds: 7). this mode becomes advantageous since it creates a more intimate interface with employment (Smith Peter: 12). There is less disjunction between the context of work and the context of study and it is easier for students to relate one to the other. Also more and more people who are already in employment are finding that advances in technology are such that they cannot acquire appropriate skills simply through on the job experience. These people need to be able to upgrade their skills without going back to full-time study.
Thirdly, distance education can be used to meet specific educational and social problems in local and national settings the alternative of distance education became more attractive since it allowed for flexibility that fitted well with modern lifestyles. Since most of the prospective distance education students will be people who are engaged in some income generating activity, the mode of instruction becomes ideal as the learners have it me to attend to their normal engagement and still get time in the evenings or weekends to study the materials. Thus it can help reach a nontraditional population of learners (e.g. adult learners, homebound individuals). The fourth advantage of distance education is that it can be used to solve educational crisis. For example, there can arise a need to in service teachers after an educational review. Or there may be need to in-service head-teachers on how to handle large enrolments after a government implementation of free and compulsory primary education. In such instances it may be prudent to acquaint the head teachers with ways of implementing the directive.
The fifth advantage is that distance education provides easier access to education to those who might not have had the opportunity to get it during their youth. This is particularly advantageous because of its flexibility and the relief it gives from constraints of timing and location, thus in essence it widens access to education. The constraints include geographical isolation, family commitments and the requirements of employment.
The sixth advantage is that distance education provides a lot of student autonomy and independent opportunities. Because of their separation from the teacher, distance education students approach more closely the ideal of the autonomous learner. Autonomy advocates the individualization of study. It moves the center of gravity away from the tutor and takes it closer to the student. Candy (1991) points out that a learner’s autonomy may vary from context to context. Aspects of their background, including family and prior education, powerfully affect adults in ways that limit or constrain their ability to be self-directing in certain learning situations. The level of autonomy will be determined by the way in which the students have been socialized to think about learning and about themselves as learners. He continues to observe that autonomy is not something that happens to people or that can be given to them. That while an adult educator may be able to vie, learners, the chance to exercise freedom, it is not possible to give them autonomy.
The seventh advantage is that it solves the problems of isolation (Dodds: 7). There are instances where students may be far away from schools or even other educational facilities such as libraries. In such cases the distance education mode guarantees access to knowledge. The knowledge may then be transmitted in the form of print, recorded materials and any other format that may be relevant. This may assist students in arid and semi arid areas.
The eighth advantage is that distance education maximizes the student’s’ ability and opportunity to relate what they are learning to the lives they are living. (Tony Dodds: 7). In the conventional program a student learns a lot of theory before finally getting to practice. In the case of Bachelor of education degree program, the student goes for teaching practice towards the end of the program. This fails to give the learner an opportunity to integrate what they may be learning to practice.
Another point is that distance education tends to attract students who are already in the professions compared to conventional programs where most of the students, register, in programs as a last resort.
This ninth advantage is that distance education increases opportunities for education without a corresponding increases in cost (Dodds : 7; smith Peter ; 12). Increasing opportunities for education is based on the assumptions that:
- Distance teaching makes it possible for a few teachers to reach a large number of students, with better quality control over course materials (Smith Peter: 12)
- Doesn’t require new schools or physical structures for expansion to take place, it can rely on the spare-time use of existing buildings and equipment.
- Makes it possible for students to learn while they continue to earn, they don’t have to be removed from the productive activity while they study.
- Can achieve economies of scale, once the teaching materials have been produced and the system established, additional students can be enrolled with any marginal cost, the more students they are, the lower the cost per student. Higher fixer and lower variable costs characterize the cost structure of distance education as compared with campus-based education. Note that selling distance education on the basis that it is cheap is a two-edged sword. If the system once established has to be run cheaply, the quality of materials and the extent of student support, are bound to suffer. A commission set in Australia in 1986 suggested that efficiency in terms of unit costs is reached when enrollments in a subject are above a threshold which lies between 50 and 150. Keegan (1991:93) acknowledges that while increasing the proportion of interactive activities improves a student’s performance., it simultaneously increases the management costs.