Distance Learning or Distance Education refers to providing education to students who are not physically present at the location. It may be through electronic or non electronic means. The electronic means of providing correspondence education is many time referred as eLearning. US Department of Agriculture defines distance learning as
“It is a process to create and provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both.”

With the improvement in technology, this type of education is becoming more popular among the students who wants to get qualified with quality education and do not want to leave their home towns. Hybrid or Blended course of study refer to the on-site presence of student in distance education. It can be for any reason, including examination and evaluation. Distance education is also recognized for its potential in satisfying individual attention need and communication around the globe.

History

History of distance education starts with an advertisement ‘Caleb Phillips, Teacher of the new method of Short Hand” in Boston Gazette in 1728. The purpose of this advertisement was to collect students who want to get educated by receiving lessons weekly. Modern distance education has been practiced since 1840s when Isaac Pitman taught shorthand in Great Britain via correspondence. Commercial correspondence colleges starts with the start of postal services in 19th century spreading nation wide.

Distance learning degrees was first offered by University Of London leading to its external programme in 1858. In 1873, the society has been founded to encourage studies at home named as The Society to Encourage Studies at Home (SH) was the first correspondence school in the United States. The other universities also started establishing department of correspondence education. More information can be found below.

University Of Queensland, Australia, 1911
University Of South Africa, 1946
Massey University, New Zealand, 1960
Open University, United Kingdom, 1969
UNED, Spain, 1972
FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany, 1974
With the above mentioned universities, there were many institutes recognized as Open University start correspondence education system. The term institute was used for educational premises having 100,000 students.

University Of Chicago started first Extension Service of America to reach internationally with the help of mails. The program was known as “learning by correspondence programs” and was developed by William Rainey Harper (First President Of University Of Chicago).

Charles Wedemeyer is considered as a Father Of Modern Distance Learning in America. From 1964-1968 the Carnegie Foundation funded Wedemeyer’s Articulated Instructional Media Project (AIM). This project has brought many means of communication into practice for distance learning and has impressed British which imported this idea and created Open University known as UKOU. UKOU was established in late 1960s and used radio and television as their primary tools for distance education and thus became front line institute.

Their are many institutes providing degrees via distance education. Some of them are accredited while others are just nothing more than fraud Diploma Mills. According to many jurisdictions, the term university can only be used by institutes accredited and authorized by National Government.

In 20th century, Invention of internet has brought up the distance learning and make the process much faster and easier. University Of Phoenix, private for profit primary university of online education, has 200,000 students and has been projected to 500,000 students in 2010. However success rate of students passing from these institutes is little or not known yet.

In Canada, leading distance and online learning providers are

Open Learning By Thompson Rivers University (TRU-OL) . Provides more than 400 individual courses and 57 programs.
Athabasca University (AU). Offers 700 courses in 90 different undergraduate and graduate programs.
The goal of these universities is to remove the barriers and inequality in education sector. These courses are offered as diplomas and certificates, Associate Degree Programs, Bachelors Degree Programs and more.

In Manitoba state three options are available to students

The Independent Study Option (ISO)
Teacher Mediated Option (TMO)
Web-Bases Course
According to one study around 96% universities and colleges are providing their courses in correspondence education in US and around 3.2 million students take at least one course in fall 2005 via distance and online learning.

Types

Their are many types of distance education.

With the help of regular mails of printed lessons.
Pre recorded audio and video lectures.
Tele-Education with the help of Telephonic conversation.
Fax
e-mail
Web conferencing.
Video Conferencing.
Live Video Streaming.
Broadcast distance education with the help of Televisions and Radios

Technologies Used

Two types of technologies are used in distance learning.

Synchronous technologies : In this type of technology students have to present at the same time on the previously selected schedule. For example video conferencing over web. This type of technology includes Web Based VOIP, Videoconferencing, Telephone and Web Conferencing.
Asynchronous technologies : In this type of technology students select their own schedule. This technology provide more easiness and flexibility to students who has tough schedule. This technology includes emails, pre recorded audio and video lectures, fax, mail of printed materials and more.

Examination, Testing And Evaluation

Problem of testing students is also a great concern in distance education. Students can easily cheat in their exams. However introduction of mid terms and final exams with quizzes of limited time and research seeking assignment has improved the evaluation process a bit. But still it was not up to the mark of traditional level of education. The issue of cheating was still present in online courses as students are not present under the supervisions of professors.

Now a days, two methods are commonly used for evaluation and testing of students. Both the methods are good and are filling the loop holes in examination and testing structure of online education.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
CLEP is based on testing students by taking their examinations to the nearest possible exams center. These exam centers are fully monitored by professors and teachers and thus remove the chance of any cheat or short cut of passing exams.
DANTES Standardized Subject Tests (DSST)
DSST includes the methods which are not included in CLEP. It consist of online examination with quizzes and fast results structure.
The combination of both the methods has made the testing system for students much more secure and solved the problem of examination of distance education up to an extant.

Advantages

There are many advantages of distance learning. Few of them are

Flexibility
Easiness
Time Saving
Economical ( as it saves travelling cost )
Quality (Students can choose the most reputable and qualified institutes)

Disadvantages

Beside advantages, correspondences education has some disadvantages. Few of them are

Expensive (Some courses when compare with traditional course fees)
Lack of accreditation ( Many institutes providing online degrees are not accredited but they hide this truth)
Lack Of Practical Experience (especially in the field of Medical and engineering)
Success rate of students getting degrees with the help of online education is little known or unknown)