The rapid development of mobile telecommunications and of very portable computer hardware is raising people’s expectations for anytime, anywhere access to education. Distance education is uniquely poised to address this need for a wide range of educational situations.
Basic education, a critical need in many parts of the world, is being delivered in a variety of formats from the traditional paper, pencil and post form to highly experimental, solar-powered computer and cell phone systems. Post-secondary schooling and life-long learning programs employing forms of distance delivery are becoming both more popular and more widely accredited.
Those organizations which are already delivering learning opportunities from a distance, will be able to continue to refine their programs taking advantage of research into distance education theory and practices to develop designer programs to suit the educational needs of life-long learners. The opportunity to serve individuals’ and organizations’ learning needs positions these organizations to continue to develop theory and practice.
The synergy being developed now between various groups of distance educators will drive research to more fully describe the distance education experience. The ability to record interactions in distance education classes allows a unique opportunity to researchers. Interactions between students and students, students and teachers can be archived and examined after the formal learning has finished. Distance education researchers can examine learning actions and growth and identify actions that lead to greater learning and understanding. This particular characteristic of distance learning gives research opportunities that have not been widely available to face to face educational researchers.
The research opportunities that distance education offers coupled with its ability to provide flexible, convenient learning anywhere, anytime position it to lead both educational delivery and research in the 21st century.