the electronic age has made it much easier to learn at a distance,
the roots of today's distance learning courses are more than 100
years old. Some date distance learning back to 1889, when it was
used as a way to provide learning opportunities for teachers who
were unable to attend Montreal's McGill University during the cold
winter months to study for their degree.
course, technology has cranked distance learning up to new levels
of complexity never dreamed of by chilly McGill students. While
originally entirely paper-based, distance learning evolved to include
radio broadcasts, slow-scan videos, audiotaped lectures, and satellite
distance learning means different things to different companies,
but often involves stand-up instruction in combination with the
Internet, telephony, and videoconferencing technologies. (E-learning,
or "electronic learning," is simply the delivery of these
training opportunities strictly in an electronic fashion.) It
is fast becoming a viable alternative for companies and universities
alike, despite technological expense and complexities.
learning saves money and retains employees
The benefits of distance learning are that it is a cost-effective
way to train a widely dispersed workforce, saving on travel expenses
and time away from work. It provides flexibility convenient for
individual schedules, allowing learning to take place anytime, anywhere.
And it gives companies a good way to retain their most valuable
Rothstein, former general manager of Lotus's Distributed Learning
Business Group, said, "The benefits are obvious. Companies who need
to train their customer service people, for example, don't want
to train them for just one week a year. They need to train them
throughout the year, as their products and markets change. So being
able to train in smaller chunks, closer to when the learning is
of value in the market, is a great benefit. And it means that learning
is retained, as well."
more paper, no more books
While distance learning varies from company to company, it generally
involves a combination of technologies. Using the Internet, a company's
intranet, and a variety of online tools including a Web browser,
students can engage in online discussions, review course material,
take exams, collaborate on assignments, and even interact with an
instructor at their convenience.
managers, built right into the software, allow instructors to monitor
quizzes, schedules, and performance. Distance learning enables learning
to be self-directed, provides a high level of training, and makes
it easier for organizations to achieve their goals and objectives.
explains that there are two kinds of distance models. The first
is synchronous learning, where you can broadcast a lecture or have
a "live" virtual classroom where everyone connects to the same server
at the same time. An instructor is "present" to teach the content,
and electronic tools allow for hand-raising and interaction.
learning, on the other hand, is self-paced. All the content is put
on a server and people access it whenever they have time. But Rothstein
says many of the discussion group models of learning work asynchronously
as well, allowing for more time and schedule flexibility.
and knowledge training are the major uses of distance learning at
the moment, but advances in technology - greater bandwidth and more
dependable dialup access, for instance - will likely expand its
range in the future. Capabilities such as streaming video and audio,
videoconferencing, PowerPoint, and Java-based applets will help
students interact on a more personal level around the globe and
advance successfully from one level of learning to the next.
typically provide a wide range of off-the-shelf courses to their
employees: HR courses, management education, and IT training, to
name a few. But some training needs to be customized, such as the
training of a company's sales force, new employee orientations,
and customer service skills.
most successful companies use different models and both purchase
and develop content," Rothstein said. "Some even blend the models,
combining classroom training with take-home computer-based materials.
It depends on what's most appropriate."
to the future
What's the future for distance learning? Experts estimate that 90
percent of major corporations have been piloting distance learning
models for the last few years and are now starting to use it much
more broadly. Reduced travel costs, combined with access to "just-in-time"
information and course consistency add up to big returns for most
companies. Workers also prosper from the new systems. Most e-learning
opportunities are asynchronous and allow the employee to work at
his or her own pace by supervised by a training manager or human
some companies even offer tuition reimbursement for accredited online
university studies, combining distance learning and e-learning opportunities
into one comprehensive package. Remember, research your company's
training options, match your needs with the best possible program
out there, and then ask about your potential opportunities.
Linda Jenkins, Salary.com contributor