With the advances in technology that run rampant through our society it can be easy to feel as though distance learning and online education are synonymous. In fact, it almost seems as though we have been tweeting, emailing, learning online and building virtual social networks forever. It may seem crazy to think that the Internet only came into common use in the 1980s - around the same time that Madonna and Duran Duran were two of the biggest music acts on the scene and neon parachute pants were all the rage. In fact, you probably did not have a cell phone until the late 1990s and certainly no Wi-Fi until really just the past five or ten years.
The growth of our information age has simply been phenomenal. As much as that growth as impacted our social lives, making us more social in the virtual world and perhaps less social in the real world, it has also impacted how we learn, and what we learn, specifically, it has really changed the world of distance learning.
What We Learn Today
So, what is distance learning education? Distance learning of the mid 20th Century was somewhat limited. One could prepare in their homes to be an automotive technician (a good career in the 1960s and 1970s), however the distance learning program really involved just learning the parts of a car and the theories out of a book, there was no room for practical experience. Instead, distance learning was better suited to intellectual topics such as high school completion or paralegal studies, as well as things done easily at home such as art.
Today, some of the best jobs are in computers. From network security to database management, computers are part of the highest growth jobs in the United States and the world, perhaps second only to healthcare. Fortunately, the world of computers lends itself very well to distance learning, particularly with the dawn of virtual education.
How We Learn Today
Today's online version of distance learning is so advanced that it has opened the doors to a world of educational opportunities. Whereas a distance learning course of the past may have had an auto mechanic student looking at books, today that same student can use computer simulations to actually see the inner workings of a vehicle and perform repairs online. These types of interactive experiences create skills that are much more readily transferable to the real life work place, contributing to the usefulness of online distance learning.
Similarly, learning to work with computers makes absolutely perfect sense in an online environment; what does it matter if a student sits in a computer lab at a university or on their computer back home? Even expensive software can be shared with students for free via virtual lab environments also known as cloud computing, further adding to this format's applicability to computer education.
Looking Towards the Future
As online education comes of age, and the competition continues to grow, distance learning institutions are being challenged to come up with more and more innovative ways of providing a relevant education to their students. The technology will continue to advance, making distance learning more and more viable across a variety of fields.
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