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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
January 2007 - Volume 25 / Number 8
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Teleconferencing And Distance Learning: An Inside Look

David Sims
TMCnet Contributing Editor

Distance learning is defined by The U. S. Office of Technology Assessment as the “linking of a teacher and students in several geographic locations via technology that allows for interaction.” One more definition is also necessary: Satellite teleconferencing is “technology used to send a one-way video broadcast from one site to many sites through the use of satellite equipment,” according to the definition used by the Texas State Library. Basically, it’s a one-way video broadcast, and if you throw telephones and fax machines into the mix, it’s interactive — becoming a one-way video, two-way audio (denoted 1V-2A) experience in which participants “can see and hear the presenter, but cannot be seen by the presenter and can interact with the presenter only through the use of other audio media such as telephone or fax.”

This one-way video capability differentiates “satellite teleconferencing” from “videoconferencing,” which is a two-way video, two-way audio (2V-2A) technology where everyone can see and hear everyone else in real time.

That’s but one advantage for education professionals conducting distance learning via teleconferencing, and it doesn’t require too much imagination to think of others. As Praful Shah, VP of Corporate Development, EagleACD and Eagle Teleconferencing wrote recently, “A growing number of U.S. schools and companies are adopting audio conferencing to achieve an effective presence abroad without distance travel.”

Heck, if you want, you can trace distance learning back to when Marco Polo published his travel memoirs. College correspondence courses and teleconferencing over speakerphones were earlier technological methods of distance learning. From teleconferencing via modem and transporting still pictures along with interactive audio, we’ve come all the way to two-way, full audio, full video communication.

Distance learning can be seen as an adult outgrowth of the burgeoning homeschool movement in the United States, where students study at their own pace and tailor their curriculum to their strengths and interests. Of course, homeschoolers rarely use teleconferencing, but it represents a possible competitive advantage for homeschool curriculum providers.

Rural school districts and overseas elementary and secondary schooling could benefit from teleconferencing for distance learning (he said from experience; this reporter lives in Istanbul where his children are being educated at home with standard New Zealand curriculum modified for distance learning. Teleconferencing opportunities would be distinct benefits.)

Evangelist Billy Graham once pointed out that, via television, he could preach to more people in an hour than St. Paul preached to his entire life; today one university lecture can be beamed out to more students than are enrolled in any one university in the world. Such economies of scale have allowed the University of Phoenix to become the self-proclaimed, “largest private university in the U.S.,” with 145,000 students, more than 63,500 of who are online students.

It’s an interesting chicken-and-egg question of whether distance learning is booming because of teleconferencing, or if teleconferencing is being pressed into service of a boom in 25+-year olds returning to higher education. According to industry observer Nourisha Wells, the Census Bureau and the U. S. Department of Education report, “adult learners are the fastest growing educational demographic, growing 35 percent from 1970 to 2000. Today, more than 60 percent of all college students are 25 and older.”

In addition, “The 2004 Learning Circuits E-Learning Readiness Survey” found, as Wells points out, that “57.1 percent of all distance learners use an asynchronous (self-paced) courseware. The ability to read textbooks, take tests or complete homework when their schedule permits makes distance education more appealing to those short on time or juggling many responsibilities, such as family and work.”

Certainly, distance learning wouldn’t be anywhere near the growth industry it is today without advanced teleconferencing capabilities — remember Open University on television? Ever meet anyone who framed their Open University diploma in their office? While sacrificing some of the amenities of the traditional four-year college experience, distance learners gain tremendous advantages of cost, time and focus.

Even if the frat parties aren’t quite as boisterous or rife with social possibilities. CIS
By David Sims
TMCnet Contributing Editor

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