Currently, distance learning is one of the most rapidly growing fields in education, which is gaining popularity, especially among non-traditional students whose schedules have challenges adapting to traditional colleges (Oladejo & Gesinde, 2014).
It is worth noting that there are contentions among scholars in as far as definitions of terms are concerned. Some of the terms that raise disputes include distance learning, e- learning, and online learning. A precise definition of distance learning, therefore, should incorporate basic elements such as non-traditional modules, non-traditional learners and the provision of education to people in different geographical environments (Moore, Dickson-Deane, & Galyen, 2011).
Nonetheless, it is apparent that significant changes and outstanding growth pertinent to distance learning have been experienced in education systems worldwide. For instance, the drastic technological changes, especially in the last couple of decades, have revolutionized the landscape of education in general with notable impacts on distance learning (Oladejo & Gesinde, 2014).
Further, there are current issues and trends relatable to the field of distance learning globally. The issues and trends are likely to have outstanding implications in the current and the future of distance learning.
This research paper investigates some of the issues and trends in distance learning paying key interest on direction and implications of the issues and trends in distance learning.
The internet, educational technology, and distance learning
Global milestones and breakthroughs in communication and technology have immense impacts on distance learning and, therefore, are key trends in the education field. Distance learners can access information while communicating efficiently and effectively with their teachers. There have been immense productions of technological gadgets that facilitate distance learning and mobile learning (Ishtaiwa, Khaled, & Dukmak, 2015).
A qualitative study was carried out on the impact of educational technology on distance learning focusing on mobile learning and technology (Ishtaiwa, Khaled, & Dukmak, 2015). The study paid key interest on mobile gadgets and their implications on distance learning and mobile learning. In addition, the study investigated the faculty members’ views and opinions of integration, access, and challenges involved in mobile learning that is facilitated by educational technology.
The findings from the semi-structured interviews revealed that mobile learning is an integral aspect of distance learning. In addition, mobile learning is a valuable approach to distance learning with high potential of elevating education process and flexibility. Key challenges facing educational technology, according to the study, include lack of technology proficiency, inadequate training, insufficient awareness, and learning disruptions emanating from other variables such as technologically related infrastructures (Ishtaiwa, Khaled, & Dukmak, 2015).
In another study, the impact of educational technology was investigated. The study focused on the affordability, ease of use and the implications that mobile gadgets have on learning. The literature in the study proposed that students are likely to benefit a lot from educational technology and the use of mobile devices and, therefore, technology in distance learning is appreciated by students (Churchill, Fox, & King, 2012). On the other hand, teachers can highly benefit from mobile technology, especially on schedule flexibility, collaboration, research, and content delivery among other elements pertinent to distance learning (Churchill, Fox, & King, 2012).
Learning systems and curricular adopted for distance learning
A notable trend among many educational institutions is the overhaul of education systems to incorporate the unique needs of distance learners. Many institutions and education stakeholders are changing educational systems, curricular and teaching approaches.
It is worth noting that many distance learners have unique characteristics and diverse needs. Most non-traditional students have tight schedules and, therefore, education systems and curricular designed for adult learns should be appropriate.
In a study, the relevance and appropriateness of systems were investigated using the motivational design theory. The study revealed that students enrolling for distance learning highly require motivation. Some of the key aspects that should be reviewed to motivate adult learners and other non-traditional learners include the relevance and appropriateness of curricular, augmented satisfaction, and confidence among learners (Balaban-Sali, 2008).
The study suggested that designing an appropriate curriculum and education system motivates learners in distance learning in achieving their goals. As such, motivational theory proposes that instructional and educational processes should be configured with approaches aimed at augmenting attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction among students.
Another study was carried out to investigate the need for making a more appropriate curriculum for distance learning. The study used an e-commerce curriculum on two groups. One group received an appropriate curriculum while the control group received a relatively inappropriate curriculum. The first group reported more augmented outcomes than the control group (Li, 2015).
It is, therefore, apparent that many educational institutions are striving to make appropriate curricular and education systems to cater for the unique needs of students in distance learning.
Issues in distance learning
Quality issues in distance learning
One of the most important issues in learning is the provision of quality education. Quality education facilitates the bridging of gaps between grandaunts’ qualifications and job, vocational and social requirements. Many students enrolling for distance learning have diverse needs, which they presume that they will be able to meet by going back to school. Therefore, the issue of quality education is key in distance education and should be given appropriate consideration.
The demand for quality distance learning is high and, therefore, the need to introduce quality programs in distance learning is apparent.
According to a study, quality in distance learning can be augmented by incorporating quality in curriculum designs, improving learning programs, offering excellent support to students, training and enlightening education stakeholders on innovative techniques, and promoting research (Malik, 2015). In addition, comprehensive and relevant assessment techniques should be adopted while training all the stakeholders on the need for ethics and professionalism in assessment processes. Moreover, educational institutions should only provide distance education upon receiving proper accreditation from valid accrediting agencies. Lastly, the study proposed that constant and regular quality assurance checks should be done on all institutions offering distance education (Malik, 2015).
A different study emphasized the need to improve e-learning and other platforms. It is evident that platforms adopted play a key role in providing quality education. Therefore, the e-learning platform, which is an integral part of distance learning, should be drastically improved in all institutions offering distance education (Ireland & Correia, 2009).
Distance learning should be accessible to all. Accessibility issues are apparent where some learners find it difficult to access distance learning or some crucial elements.
A research carried out in Africa revealed that accessibility remains a crucial challenge in pursuing distance learning.
Although some students who participated in the survey had gadgets that could access the internet, a majority of students in third world countries lack access to the internet (Liebenberg, Chetty, & Prinsloo, 2012). It was also apparent that lack of skills in operating technological gadgets contributed highly to increasing inaccessibility to distance learning. The study suggested that stakeholders should strive to ensure that accessibility to distance learning is improved and a considerable number of students are able to enroll in their desired courses.
On the other hand, distance learning can be a tool to enhance accessibility to education. As such, distance learning augments access and enrolment. A study was done on the role of distance learning in increasing enrolment and augmenting access to education. The study suggested that distance-learning gives some students chances to access quality education, interact with qualified teachers, and use innovative curricular techniques without having to travel (Collins, McKinnies, & Collins, 2010). In addition, distance learning enhances access to education due to its flexible nature. According to the study, students can access education at their convenience and, therefore, distance learning increases enrolment (Collins, McKinnies, & Collins, 2010).
Distance learning is a vital element in education. As such, distance learning is increasingly gaining popularity. More learners that are non-traditional are enrolling for studies. Educational institutions, on the other hand, are improving their systems to incorporate distance learners.
A number of issues influences distance learning. In addition, there are many trends pertinent to distance learning. This research paper has discussed some of the trends and issues affecting distance education.
Some of the most noticeable trends and issues in distance learning include educational technology, the increased use of the internet in learning, changes in education systems and curricular, quality issues, and accessibility issues among others. Most of the trends and issues in distance learning have huge implications on education and are likely to inform the future of distance learning and education in general.
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