Distance Learning Grows Thanks to Net

Distance learning, where student and teacher are connected by technology rather than the classroom, is becoming a viable option to traditional teaching methods thanks largely in part to the Internet.

According to research from International Data Corp. (IDC), the number of college students enrolled in distance-learning courses will reach 2.2 million in 2002, up from 710,000 in 1998. This number will represent 15 percent of all higher education students, up from 5 percent in 1998.

“Advancements in technology are breaking down barriers and changing the way teachers can interact with students,” said Sau Ching Lau, senior analyst for IDC’s Education Markets Research program. “The Internet is the catalyst attracting more schools and students to distance learning than ever before.”

The number of higher education institutions offering distance-learning programs is also growing dramatically. By 2002, 85 percent of two-year colleges will be offering distance-learning courses, up from 58 percent in 1998. Eighty-four percent of four-year colleges will be offering distance-learning courses in 2002, up from 62 percent in 1998, according to IDC.

Distance learning has traditionally been delivered primarily through videotape and closed circuit TV (CCTV). Over the past two years, however, the Internet has completely changed the distance learning landscape — scope, content, and the delivery of distance education are now dramatically different, while distance learning courses are more widely available.

According to IDC’s report Online Distance Learning in Higher Education, 1998-2002, as distance learning becomes a serious alternative to the standard classroom environment, enormous opportunities present themselves. Software developers, telecommunications companies, hardware makers, publishers, Internet and Web service providers, and many other technology- and education- based services are developing systems for this emerging market that capitalize on the special capabilities of different technologies.

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