Definition: a number of definitions for distance learning are available in the literature. Chaney &Eddy 2011 proposes different criteria’s of defining distance education (Chaney, Chaney, & Eddy, 2011). The first one is the separation of learner and a teacher so as to influence an educational organization specifically in learning materials planning and preparation, technical media use and a two way mode of communication provision offered in the most industrialized form of education. Furthermore, industrialized and privatized features in learning institutions are associated with distance learning. Another description is that it is an educational process where students deprived of space with time of the instructor do a significant part of learning. The process of learning is normally done with a combination of Medias. Some of the most effective programs involve linking broadcasts together with print and some form of face-to-face learning (Chaney, Chaney, & Eddy, 2011).
Distance learning has a long-standing history especially in the United States. It has experienced gradual expansion since the establishment of learning institutions. It can be traced back to the start of print based technologies in the U.S. in the beginning of the 20th century. Universities and lower learning institutions were offering courses to elementary, secondary, and vocational and higher education learners (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2000). In 1969, Open University programs were started in the U.K. combining both print and non-print resources. Later professionally produced television programs were introduced to adult learners through video tapes. Basic skills improvement was the only focus. These programs lacked the basic two-way mode of communication. After the development of video and audio teleconferencing, two-way mode of communication came to live (Chaney, Chaney, & Eddy, 2011).
The growth of distance learning besides face-to-face learning indicates the importance of this mode of learning. Presently almost all the countries in the world have embraced distance learning as an important tool in the development of these nations. The dilemma of limited finances in the funding of education faces most of these countries. Distance learning can cover the needs of a nation in terms of training and retraining of their staff in large scale and at the same time using limited resources. Currently distance learning is using schools, colleges, open universities, teleconference consortia, universities, and corporations (ROVAI & Downey, 2010).
Chaney, Chaney & Eddy (2011) indicates that there have been considerable rises in the number of courses and programs that are offered through distance learning in the past ten years. This can be attributed to the increase of the education technologies. They contend that success of distance learning is a function of an individual is learning styles. Further, they argue that students will tend to gravitate on the delivery method that best suits their learning style. In addition to this, for a program to be successful, the drivers of the program must be achieved through teaching and learning, instead of technology being the driver. Because of the fact that distance learning takes advantage of technologies, many program developers tend to let it to drive the distance learning. Most education institutions confer the mandate to select units to their information technology departments rather than having the function to be with academic affairs department (Dillon & Greene, 2003). Many students who use distance learning have varying schedules that prohibit attendance of a synchronous class. It also includes the meetings and their presenting a challenge of using some technological methods such as teleconferences. Therefore, the program designers must consider this while designing the media of technology to be used during the learning. Therefore, in accord with this the institutions must conduct the needs assessment to ascertain the needs of the interest group (Hill, 2012).
James Koch on his research paper indicates that it is difficult to measure learning in distance learning because currently these programs are running in almost every academic discipline. Thus, most large samples evaluating studying will use students’ grades as a way of evaluating proxies in learning. Berge and Mrozowski, 2001 in their recent review of research in distance learning reports that around 1419 articles and abstracts have appeared in considerable journals and dissertations of distance learning from 1990 to 1999. Further, they indicate that over one hundred of these articles focus on measures of student success concentrating on parameters such as grades, in distance education programs and courses. Moreover, they have looked on the issue of student characteristics such as age, gender, or even ethnic backgrounds are essential to the individual student success. Machtmes and Asher, 2000 indicate that experienced faculty members are more effective than less experienced; conversely, less is known about how the characteristics of faculty members are essential to distant learning students and in emphasis to where televised and interactive learning’s are concerned.
Successful distance learning programs are indicated by student-tutor interactions, instant feedbacks, support services, program evaluation and assessments, clear audience and analysis and documented technologies plan. Interactions in a learning institution play a vital role in ensuring quality assurance in learning activities (Chaney, Chaney & Eddy, 2011). The most significant interaction is between the student and the instructor; therefore, learning courses should be encouraged to promote this interaction. The instructor of the courses must be present or appear to be so, to provide feedbacks to questions, assignments, or even concerns of students. Sherry (2003) argues that communications through a faculty should directly engage students and in time responses that will contribute to interchanges and thus consequent success (ROVAI & Downey, 2010).
In summary distance, learning is not superior or inferior to the traditional face-to-face learning techniques. This is because the structure of the contents offered on the traditional mode of learning is similar that in the distance learning. However, despite this, institutions that offer a combination of both of these have a synergy since they have the luxury of sharing the facilities. In most cases, nevertheless, laggards or late adopters in education are best suited for the traditional method because they can have ample time with the instructors; therefore, improve their catching up with the rest of the students. This is because the traditional method allows for better interaction of the stakeholders. Chaney, Chaney, & Eddy, 2011 indicates several factors that are required for the success of distance learning, the same factors will be required in the traditional form of learning for its success.
On the other hand, distance learning is suited for location and time-bound students. It reaches the population that is mostly underserved (Chaney, Chaney, & Eddy, 2011). This is among the differences, and it gives individuals’ a chance to access scholars in different fields, allows students to access even international discussions, lectures and forums and, finally, it offers an opportunity for personalization of education experience. However, despite all these advantages there are a number of challenges encountered while offering distance learning. Most programs in this area are best suited in social sciences and art-based courses rather than in natural sciences. This is because of the nature of natural sciences where practical sessions are required. It presents a challenge as it is easy to offer virtual laboratories where these practices can be done. In addition, there is a challenge in that most of the institutions are based on localized areas; hence, they are not easily accessible by students who require physical assistance by their instructors. Moreover, online evaluations cannot be trusted as better methods of students’ assessments. In the earlier definitions by Chaney, Chaney, & Eddy, 2011 distance learning must have some form of face to face learning. In conclusion, to ensure and enhance the quality of distance learning assessment tools must be improved.