9a iii). Identify some of the characteristics of distance education.
9.5 Characteristics of distance education
Distance education has the following characteristics:
At the first characteristic is that there is physical separation between teachers and students in times and space. This should be looked at with the background that it is generally considered that the educational relationship between teacher and learner should be dynamic and reciprocal. John BAAth made an important theoretical and empirical contribution to the concept of two-way communications a major defining feature of distance education. This demonstrates the fact that distance education is not just self-study but that it is desirable to maintain a two-way communication. BAAth emphasized the role of the tutor in a distance education program as going beyond that of correcting errors and assessing students’ progress but also promoting study motivation.
This characteristic notwithstanding it is important to note that learning is not simply a matter of acquiring knowledge but is a constructive process that involves the negotiation of meaning, which assumes the participation of others. To achieve this under distance education there should be possibilities of occasional meetings in seminars or residential session, or teaching at a distance with written comment, telephone use or audio cassette material. Stewart (1980:177) recommends the implementation of an effective advisory and supportive role in addition to the provision of a teaching package. He stresses the importance of group learning as not only being supportive of the learning process in its potential interaction between students and course content, but also because group learning offers a benchmark to the individual members of the group.
The second characteristic of distance education is the usage of a wide range of media with print being the main type. Admittedly, the main type of media used in distance education is in form of print. This comes in the form of reading materials such as textbooks, handouts, brochures, worksheets and graphics. Other types of media are recommended so as to compensate for the lack of facial contact. The multimedia approach caters for the wide variations in student study formats and interests. The print media must be written in such a way as to be independently used by the pupil.
The third characteristic of distance education is that is a highly individualized system of instruction. Brookfield (1995) sees distance education as self-directed learning that focuses on the process by which adults take control of their own learning, in particular how they set their own learning goals, locate appropriate resources, decide on which learning methods to use and evaluate their own resources.
The fourth characteristic of distance education is that here is a high usage of centralized high volume production of standardized learning materials. As stated in the third characteristic above the main media is print. Because of the high enrollment covering a large catchment area the materials are produced centrally in large quantities for distribution to the students. The materials are carefully, researched, written and edited for their suitability for the intended audience. Again, it is essential to ensure that the materials are standardized so that even if the students do not refer to a variety of reading materials to obey will be in a position to compete favorably with conventional students.
The fifth characteristics of distance education is that there should be counseling and general support of students’ work by distance study material. The role of the teacher becomes that of providing supportive and corrective feedback but little personal communication. In most cases, students under distance education are mature age and self-supporting. They would be parents possibly with other dependants.They pay fees, provide shelter and other basic necessities to the dependants. When they enroll in the programs the demands of the course overwhelm their resources and they tend to plunge into financial problems. This if not detected on time and the student counseled may lead to dropping out. This is one more reason why there should be frequent field visits by tutors to besides handling academic issues counsel and give general support to the student.