Monday, April 12, 2010

Distance education in the XXI Century: A new opportunity?

In the second half of the twentieth century, a series of initiatives promoted distance education using television as a way to solve the challenge meant to deliver quality content to remote locations or schools, to show the performance of effective teachers in delivery such content, or create flexible training opportunities for students who had left school.

The assessment of this experience was not good. The use made of available materials was low, in many cases access was difficult and hard, and the final impact on enrollment rates and educational attainment was low.

With the emergence of the Information Technologies and Communication, appeared numerous options for distance learning, now known as e-Learning, which aroused tremendous enthusiasm in the last decade of last century, but slowly focused on the provision of higher education.

Probably, this concentration was due, among other things, opportunities available in this market niche. Indeed, in this way higher education institutions could expand their range available without large investments in infrastructure and personnel, pointing to an interested audience (who had no alternatives to the traditional higher education given the economic and academic barriers to entry) and willingness to pay.

Another relevant factor may be that the modalities of distance education developed at the time were strongly marked by the idea of self-learning. Each student in front of his computer, had to maintain strict self-discipline to sustain their studies outside the permanent control of teachers and authorities. This meant that a vast majority of distance learning programs fail because of the huge dropout rates of their students. And probably the adult audience had enough motivations and degrees of maturity to endure, compared with children or adolescents.

However, there are three new elements, typical of the last three or four years, making relevant to ask about the possibilities of distance education in school stages, using information technologies and communication in the twenty-first century:

  1. The consolidation of Web 2.0 (participatory and collaborative) and the development of what has been called "cloud computing" (in reference to services and applications that run entirely on internet and thus need not be stored on local or too powerful computers, and accessible from any location and device), has led to the emergence of increasingly powerful tools, capable of offering highly enriched educational experiences, in respect of which a few years ago were available. In this way, you can imagine online training platforms not only more powerful and versatile, but also much better suited to the needs of each user, whether these spatial (ubiquity), technological (different possibilities of access) or education (other styles and pace of learning).
  2. The advancement of ICT in the world, decreasing prices (both equipment and connectivity), has opened the opportunity for many families have access to digital resources, but also many governments (national, regional or local ) have made major investments to reduce access gaps faced by low-income families. The wave of projects 1 to 1 in the region is an example of that.
  3. In contrast to the above two points, Latin America faces the continuing difficulties in achieving high coverage, especially in secondary education, both geographic and economic reasons, and for the dropout of students, who are not see in school, in many cases. offer attractive enough to keep them motivated and reasonable expectations of their achievements. To this is added the fact that, despite the many resources invested and the different approaches have been the processes of reform, educational outcomes are far from the expected quality.

These three factors combined, present an opportunity for reflection about the potential impact of distance education, in schools in Latin America, on which it is worth trying new approaches.

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