Much of my life I have experienced Distance Learning.  Distance LearningEducation online has been developing consistently since about 1990. I had the pleasure of attending one of the earliest distance learning courses that were created.  In my case, this was a writing course at my college.  It was an elective attached to an Engineering College and was available both online and as a traditional class.

As I was working full time and trying to raise a couple of kids while going to school I opted to give the online option a try.  The course was arranged in a somewhat traditional format that used the online world to allow contact.  All of it was either an audio format or via e-mail and online chat.

We logged in to the classroom lecture weekly where we listened to a lecture by the instructor.  Assignments were delivered by e-mail.  We had a week to provide the required assignment via e-mail back to the instructor and had constant access to the other students and the instructor via a chatroom.  We were required to interact with the others in the class in this chat on a frequent schedule.  Part of the grade was determined by the level of interaction.

As this was a creative writing course, the assignments were a mix of reading books by specific authors, writing reviews and position papers on the material and various other creative writing tasks.  Feedback from the instructor was via e-mail.

This medium was quite effective in its way.  The class was very engaging.  The students were able to share views back and forth and the instructor was able to gently direct the learning via the chat.  There were some significant technical challenges to overcome.  This was back in the day of dial-up.  I think my connection speed was 9600 baud.  So things happened at the speed of a tortoise. Connections were unreliable and sporadic.  Of course, the phone to our house was constantly connected to the computer so no other communications were available while this was going on.  Cell phones and WiFi were not even a concept at this point.  We were constantly checking to verify that assignments arrived and in at least one case I know that an assignment didn’t arrive.  Fortunately, the instructor was forgiving with deadlines as she was aware of the technical glitches.

Jumping forward a few decades and we have an environment that is highly conducive to online learning.  Chat rooms are now reliable and real time.  Lectures can be delivered either as a video presentation to be watched from You Tube or another video delivery system or as a real time hangout on Google +.  Interaction has moved to an entirely different level.

Assignments can still be delivered via email but alternatively can be posted in a shared location for anyone with a log-in to see. Real time full video interaction is possible throughout the US and many parts of the world.  The classroom is not limited to your location.  You can even participate in broadcasts from space.

Recently the SUNY (State University of New York) system even announced that they will be providing several full majors completely online.  You will no longer even need to step on the campus.

There is a problem that has surfaced with this system, however.  Is the person that is earning the degree actually doing the work?  This is being verified by providing secure locations where the student will go to take exams.  They must present identification and take the exams on computers that are not their own but located inside a security zone.  Presumably, if you are able to pass an exam you have completed the work satisfactorily.

It is good that the University systems are learning to respond to the changing nature of the world and are finding ways to reach their students.  This is a huge leap forward.  Employers are finding that an online education is just as valid as a traditional one.  Many students are capable of learning in this way.  Others don’t possess the necessary focus that is required.  Students must take responsibility for their own learning.  There is no skating by with this learning model.  Online education takes persistence and focus to complete in a timely manner.

Outside of the formal educational system, teaching and learning can be enhanced nicely by the strides that online educational systems have made.

If you are in a niche that you would like to help people understand better,  arrange an online class for those that are interested.  Google + is a great way to do this.  You can teach your students or clients your topic in real time.  If you have collaborators, up to 10 presenters can share the hangout with you for the presentation.  When complete, the entire presentation can be preserved on YouTube for viewing at another time. You can even present a presentation directly on YouTube for those that are interested.

A place where all of the various methods for online education has been created.  This is Wealthy Affiliate.  The methods outlined have been embraced to present a course of study in Affiliate Marketing.  There is even a free trial membership where students can start their journey into the world of online marketing.

Stop by, have a look at how the technology is being used.  You may even find that this is an environment where you can learn to make your own way in the wonderful world of the World Wide Web.