In recent years, there’s been an emphasis on distributed learning. However, distributed learning has been around for some time now. Most of us do not know this because it is known by another name: distance learning. Distance learning involves the use of technology to assist off-campus students in their learning. It’s interesting to note that technology has become the intermediary agent between the students and the educationists. And sometimes, technology is the educationists (in the case where students learn simply by listening and/or viewing the video recordings of the lecturers, a practice that is becoming more popular over the years).
Indeed, distributed learning is the evolved form of distance learning, encompassing all of the latter with an inclusion of the use of technology by on-campus students in their learning as well. While it used to be only external students who are given access to online teaching materials, on-campus students are also encouraged to access lecturers’ teaching notes and lectures online as well. And because of these changes, on-campus students now have the opportunity to listen to the lectures as often as they wish to, a privilege that only off-campus students get to enjoy in the past.
In fact, there are some educational institutions offering courses that are completely “media-centric”. What this means is that students are given a complete package of the course when they enroll with the centres. It is interesting to note that the students who are enrolling for such courses are able to study at their own time without the obligation to be present at an institution or even the fact that a lecturer has to be physically present to conduct lectures for the students. When I first came across such courses, the first thing that came to mind is the possibility of educationists being made redundant. If studying packages are readily made available for students, then is there a further need for educationists? Will the teaching profession become obsolete by the advancement of the media, in the same way that automation has taken over so many administrative jobs?
However, on second thought, I realise that this is not possible. Firstly, despite the advances in artificial intelligence, computers cannot process abstract information as well as humans. This is especially for subjects on humanities such as philosophy and psychology. The fact that multiple choice tests are available on the internet but not online assessment tests with open-ended questions is a strong evidence of this observation. Secondly, students need someone to guide and coach them when they have their enquiries. The internet is able to provide students with background information on subject matters that is relevant to their course of studies but nothing beats posing a question or enquiry to an educationist and having him or her respond to the student in a precise and concise manner. These two points more than justifies the fact that educationists are here to stay.
Since technology is here to stay and they do not pose a threat to the education profession (yet), we might as well explore the various ways that technologies are able to assist students in their learning, both on and off campus:
- Internet Website: Through the use of website features, students can enhance their learning. One useful feature is the recorded session of a live lecture. While the students have one chance of attending the lectures in the past, now they are able to access the lecture in campus or at home at any time of the day. And they can do this as many times as they want or require to. Lecture notes and additional reference materials uploaded by the lecturers are also easily retrievable online as well. The forum on the website of educational institutions can also be put to good use when it comes to the students’ learning. Through online interaction, it is a common occurrence for students to learn from one another, and often without the interference of the lecturers.
- Short Message Service (SMS): For some outdoor lessons, students are able to communicate through the use of SMS. This also allows the various teams of students to keep each other informed of their progress during the lesson.
- Laptops with wireless connections: Equipped with a laptop and a wireless broadband connection, students’ mobility can be extended beyond the classrooms. As a result, they are given the option of shifting their environment to a more conducive one. This is especially useful for geography or science lessons, where physical exploration of the environment may prove to be more useful than sitting at their desks in the classroom.
All these applications are aligned with the mode of “learning beyond the classroom“, which is the trend for some educational institutions. There has been increased awareness among educational institutions that students learn within and outside the classroom. In fact, students are learning all the time : in class, in the lecture theatre, at home and many other places. And technology is the tool that educationists are able to employ to further their students’ learning, because it networks the students with their lecturers, the student among themselves and more importantly, the students with the world.
Thus, embracing technology for distributed learning will benefit our students immensely.