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Distance Learning in US

Internet heralds Distance Learning Boom

In 1998, 60 percent of US educational institutions provided Distance Learning courses according to figures released last month by the U.S. Education Department's national Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This is a drastic increase on the figure of 28% from 1995 and makes distance learning courses the fastest growing area in the education industry today. Although video is still the most popular method of distance learning, at least 25% of the courses used the internet as the method of communication, a large increase on the 1995 figures.

Distance Learning in US

In total, almost 80% of public 4-year institutions in the U.S. now offer distance learning courses and enrolments almost doubled in the period between 1994-1998.

"Distance learning brings postsecondary education closer to more students," said Acting Commissioner of NCES Gary W. Phillips. "It not only provides greater access, it also provides alternative ways of delivering new educational opportunities."

According to the survey, approximately 54,000 different distance education courses were offered in 1997-98 across the USA, of which 1,230 were degree programmes with over 1.6 million students attending.

While the number and range of courses flourishes, the costs of taking such courses are not always lower. Seven percent of postsecondary institutions that offered distance education charged the same tuition for these courses as for comparable on-campus courses.

The figures suggest a gradual move away from traditional methods of study and a change in the very nature of higher education all over the world, especially if the Internet increases in popularity. Although fees may not decrease drastically, the opportunities for international students to receive a degree from an accredited US university while staying at home raises endless possibilities. Huge financial savings can be made by students living in their home country yet studying abroad. Students from close-knit families may not need to be separated from them; students with their own families need not uproot husbands and children in order to further their career; those that dislike the idea of moving to a strange place need not actually do so but graduate from the comfort of their bedrooms.

However, the benefits of attending a campus-based course should also not be forgotten. The Internet does not provide for the human contact of classroom courses, making friends, the debate with peers, the social life, the bonding and all of the other aspects of traditional learning that cannot be achieved sitting at a computer screen. The drastic learning curve of existing in a foreign country and important cross-cultural understanding will begin to decrease, perhaps to the detriment of students and their home nations.

Acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Marshall Smith agrees. "Distance learning has great potential to expand educational opportunities but, at the same time, it is important that we use the technology in responsible ways to complement traditional campus-based instruction and ensure the quality and integrity of the educational offerings."

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