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Communication Technologies Used In Distance Learning

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Online Education Distance Learning

Learning via correspondence courses has been around for several decades – take, the Open University, for example, which has been in existence for around 40 years. However, it has been computerisation and the explosion of new types of communication technologies which has revolutionised online distance learning in education. This has become one of the major factors in distance learning becoming increasingly popular as it allows so much more flexibility and accessibility.

Synchronous And Asynchronous Communication

Interaction that takes place within online distance learning courses can be broadly broken down into two distinct categories – synchronous and asynchronous communication. Synchronous communication occurs in real time, similar to that of a face to face or telephone conversation. With asynchronous communication, this means that there is a time lag between individual communications. This does not, however, necessarily mean that asynchronous communication isn’t as effective as synchronous. It’s quite the opposite in fact. In online distance learning, asynchronous communication is sometimes far more effective.

Here are some examples of the most common forms of communication technologies which facilitate online distance education.

Synchronous Communication Technologies

  • Videolinks - These are usually used in two forms where distance learning is concerned. A webcam can be set up in a lecture theatre or some other appropriate venue from anywhere in the world, whereby tutors can deliver lectures to students in real time wherever in the world they may be at a specified time and date. Videoconferences are an extension to that. These can often be used to deliver seminars and they also give students the opportunity to discuss issues pertaining to their online course with both their tutor and with each other. The main difference from lectures here is that each participating online student will require their own webcam and microphone too
  • Audiolinks – These work on the same principle as videolinks except without vision. In other words, a webcam isn’t required but you will need a microphone which can be plugged into your computer if you wish to take part in an audioconference
  • Chat Rooms - Most of you will be familiar with the social aspect of online chat rooms, but they are another good example of synchronous communication whereby people can discuss issues in real time. Although some chat rooms allow an audioconference type capability where people will use microphones to communicate, most of them will simply rely on typed communication using your computer keyboard. Therefore, because we all type at different speeds, they are not as conducive to delivering course lectures. However, they are very useful for online distance learning students to get to know a little more about each other and they can often provide the social interaction in distance learning which we take for granted at traditional places of study

Asynchronous Communication Technologies

  • Message Boards – These are often referred to as ‘forums’ and simply allow fellow users to post information or to generate discussions in what are often termed ‘threads’. You can post a thread and someone else can respond to it later. This means you can ask a question or post some information knowing that a fellow online student or, perhaps, even your course tutor will respond to it next time they log on to the system
  • DVDs And CDs - Distance learning courses online will also deliver course materials by posting out DVDs, CDs and CD-Roms to you which you can watch or listen to at a time that suits you
  • Podcasts - Podcasting has become an increasingly popular method for delivering lectures on online distance learning courses and it is steadily replacing DVDs and CDs. Basically, it is like broadcasting a radio or TV programme. The difference being that you listen ‘on demand’ – in other words, at a time that suits you. Although more commonly associated with audio, many online course providers have started to see the benefits of recording video podcasts which has enabled the likes of a lecture, for example, to be viewed at a time to suit the individual. This form of delivery is becoming extremely beneficial particularly for distance education providers who may have students located all over the world which makes live videolinks often impractical given that students are geographically located in different and often widespread time zones

There are other less noticeable ways in which communication technologies facilitate online distance learning. SMS/text messages or voicemail, for example, can be used to let online students know of an impending deadline for a particular assignment or to let them know a new lecture has been recorded and made available as a podcast.

Because of the never ending advancement in communication technology, it has certainly revolutionised distance learning from what it was a decade ago and has broadened its appeal.

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