Distance Learning Trends in Higher Education



Dr. Eduardo Rivera and Dr. George Kostopoulos

erivera@ tamiu.edu kostopoulos@tamiu.edu

Professors of Information Systems

College of Business Administration

Texas A&M International University - Laredo



In this paper, examined are the main trends of Distance Learning in Higher Education, and the challenges posed to traditional educational institutions. Also, the developing interdependence between Distance Learning and Globalization is recognized and discussed.




Distance Learning, a concept and phenomenon that slowly but steadily is revolutionizing Education, continues to expand penetrating practically every learning process. While it is still at its infancy, it represents a small, but not negligible, sector of Higher Education.

The future of Distance Learning is identified with that of the new media and of the information technologies, and its exponential growth is making it an issue that every educational institution has to deal with.

Despite its strategic importance, the overwhelming majority of academic institutions have no plans in place for the capturing this unprecedented opportunity to offer education to student constituencies that who cannot access education in its traditional delivery mode.

Present State

Presently, in the year 2000, the administrations of practically all academic institutions are, to various extents, recognize the need to take a position vis-a-vis distance learning. However, very few have actually incorporated the cyber space in the strategic planning.

As a result, there is currently a disparity in Higher Education in this regard, with only about two hundred institutions offering distance learning courses, while the remaining two thousand are still contemplating the issue [1].

Attributed to the reluctance in the introduction of cyber courses, is the lack of standardization, the lack of incentives for faculty, and the failure, on the side of academic administrations to see the strategic benefits that await the successful cyber programs.

Some Background

Distance education is a general concept with numerous technological modes of implementation, such as, correspondence, videotapes, television, and the Internet, with the large market being captured by the Internet.

As a consequence of resulting cost reductions, distance education is extensively being used in the entrepreneurial world for all levels of training. In the general population, distance education is oriented more toward the adults and in higher education toward the graduate programs.

Many reasons can be attributed to that, ranging from the fact that many adults are home or work bound unable to attend traditional educational programs available next door, to the mere geographical distance that may separate them from the schools.

It has to be recognized, however, that distance education is not for everyone, but only for those who have a certain level of Internet technology literacy and a strong desire for self-learning.

Some Trends

Cyber Institutions. Many new institutions specializing in distance education have emerged, and many more will continue to emerge. However, in the long run, only a few are going to survive, as part of the increased competition. [2]

Academic Recognition. While, as of only a few years ago, cyber courses enjoyed marginal recognition and cyber degrees even less, today, and even more in the future, they will be considered as being mainstream education.[3]

Hybrid Offerings. Traditional institutions of Higher Education are already feeling the pressure to provide cyber courses, as they are pressured to provide evening courses. [4]

Use of Multimedia. As for the delivery of the educational content, it will steadily improve in quantity and in quality, using streamed multimedia (text, images, sound, video, animation) and most important interactivity. [5]

Multilingual Offerings. Considering the significant investment that is required in a cyber course development, small incremental efforts will make the course multilingual.[6]

Team working. Another trend recognized in the current evolution in distance education is the incorporation of cooperative learning, through the use of GroupWare. That is, server and client software that facilitate text, voice and video interaction.[7]

Conferencing. The use of video and voice simultaneosly, under compresssion offers an alternative to direct communicaton which is very apperciated for students who still want a personal touch. In business environments, distance conferencing is one of the hottest ways to save money and enlarges participation of workers in different courses and conferences.

Increased Bandwidth. Advanced technologies applied in modem design are steadily increasing the bit rates. Use of 1Mb/s ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) modems, and especially wireless Internet access, will enable crystal clear audio and full screen video.[8]

Course Authoring Tools. In this area we see a wide range of course administration templates available, but very little in course authoring tools. Unfortunately few places encourage students to use authoring as a learning tool [9] **

Custom Course Designs. With the increase in cyber instructors who are also Web designers, courses will remain unique in structure reflecting the philosophy of their creator.[10]

Virtual Reality. The design of educational material using simulation and virtual reality, although very sophisticated and therefore still expensive, will change as a result of the emergence of more powerful and easier to use programming languages for the design of such material. [11]

Accreditation. Although there is an organization that is supposed to pass judgement on the credibility of distance learning programs, institutions of Higher Education still abide by the traditional regional and national accreditation bodies. We are currently observing an increase in regulations for Distance Education. This increase, while aiming at the prevention of low quality courses, that effectively are underselling academic credits, fears are that it may stifle innovation. [12]

Cost. As for the Distance Education cost, there is no obvious trend, with course charges widely varying from institution to institution. [13]

Class Size. It seems that the economies of scale concept does not apply here, because Distance Education demands individualized attention that naturally limits the class size. Many schools limit the size to about eighteen students.[14]

High Technology. Advances in the communications and media technologies have a direct impact on distance learning. Most impact is expected from the wireless Internet access, the streaming media technologies, and teleconferencing.[15]

Competency Tests. The future of Distance Education belongs to the self-learners, because the academic recognition will be eventually granted based on competency measures, like examinations or presentations.[16]

Certification. Recognizing that the academic world is lagging the real world, the various industries are offering specialized educational programs that lead to certificates. These programs, presently offered in in-class environments, will be made available over the Internet, for worldwide coverage and ease in updating.[17]

Cyber Libraries. Virtual libraries, that are exclusively electronically accessed libraries, will be the way of learning. Guidelines already are in place for such libraries. With time, most publications will have an electronic full version.[18]

Free Education. For those who are interested in the learning aspect of education, rather than in the social, the Internet already offers thousands of full courses and short specialized tutorials. Respective authors, as a global community service are continuously posting their wisdom and knowledge, making it freely accessible. This trend will undoubtedly continue, eventually making the Internet humanity's knowledge depository.[19]

Enrollment. A recognized fact is that Distance Education student enrollment suffers from a high drop out rate. This is attributed to a variety of reasons ranging from Internet illiteracy and lack of responsiveness to the absence of similar precedent experiences and poorly presented courses. As Distance Education matures, enrollment is expected to keep on increasing.[20]

Instructor Literacy. Currently, the academic world has two kinds of faculty. Those who live inside the Web and those who look at it from the outside. This partitioning is mostly generational, and with time practically all faculty will be integrated with the Web.[21]

Impact of Globalization

As many of the new economic phenomena, the globalization offers a big challenge for most of the countries and regions. It is aiming at the internationalization of economic affairs and the opening of the markets to a global economy. Education, however, is something more than just another business.

Besides the fundamental education in which children learn values and culture, higher education is not only to prepare for professional life, but it is also the way in which the society regulates and creates its leaders and new executives or Acadres@. It is not evident that to leave to the simple forces of the market will improve our education. We must ask about its pertinence, and if they prepare students in the way in which a local region needs. Institutions of higher education are also organizations that traditionally offer a service to society and preserve the local culture and humanities.

Challenges and Opportunities

As life long learning becomes a reality, it seems that the only way to face this increasing demand for education and training is distance education.

For many, the main challenge seems to be maintaining the quality of education. As if traditional education would always be of quality. Here, it seems to be necessary to innovate and to measure distance education with different parameters than those of traditional education, since quality is not a number of contact hours or just only the GPA or the grade of a specific exam.

Distance education offers an opportunity for education to geographically and educationally remote places, while adjusting the curricula to complement the existing offerings. This may seem to be a reasonable approach to the globalization of distance education.


The distance education has opened a new area of multi-disciplinary research and innovation, as new technologies enter in the field. Distance education has enormous perspectives of application due to the great demand for training, need for continuous education and the diversification of higher education.

This is not the end of traditional education, since each one has its own merits and markets, especially at the pre-college level, but the beginning of an educational cooperation that will be created among institutions and countries in the formation of multinational educational consortia cooperating in distance Education.


[1] New Promise Distance Education http://www.newpromise.com/

[2] Jones International University http://www.jonesinternational.edu/

[3] Distance Education and Training Council. http://www.detc.org

[4] Mott Community College http://www.mcc.edu/

[5] Kostopoulos, George. Global Delivery of Education via the Internet. Journal of Internet Research, Volume 8, Number 3, 1998. (http://www.tamiu.edu/~kostopoulos).

[6] Gritsenko, V.I. and Anisimov, A.V. Multilingual Environment in Cyberspace, International Scientific and Training Center of Information Technologies and Systems, Kiev, Ukraine.http://www.unesco.org/webworld/infoethics_2/eng/papers/paper_9.htm

[7] PictureTel Internet Conferencing. http://www.picturetel.com

[8] InterWireless Services http://www.interwireless.com.

[9] WebCT Course Authoring Tool http://www.webct.com

[10] WebBoard Course Design. http://www.webboard.com

[11] Virtual Reality in Education www.ddce.cqu.edu.au/ddce/confsem/vr/present.html

[12] American Association of Colleges and Schools of Business. http://www.aacsb.edu.

[13] NewPromise Distance Education. http://www.newpromise.com.

[14] United States Distance Learning Association - Archives http://www.usdla.org/03_fact_sheet.htm

[15] Real Networks Streaming Media. http://www.real.com

[16] Competency Tests http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/sla/ret/crct.html

[17] Microsoft Certification Programs http://www.microsoft.com/train_cert/

[18] Electronic Library Services http://www.elibrary.com/

[19] Free Higher Education Campaign http://www.interlog.com/~2mowchuk/fedcamp/fed01.html.

[20] Berry, John. Web Learning Starts To Pay Off, InternetWeek, November 15, 1999.

[21] Smith,S.J., Tyler,M. and Benscoter, A. Internet Supported Teaching: Advice from the Trenches, Education at a Distance, January 2000 Vol. 13 No.1.



[1] Kostopoulos, George. Instructor-Developed Online-Course Design, Eighth Annual International Conference on Distance Education, December 1-5, 1999 Guadalajara, Mexico. Co-authored with Ourida-Zoe Kostopoulos.

[2] Kostopoulos, George. Study of Issues Associated with Cyber Education, Eighth Annual World Business Congress, June 30 - July 3, 1999 Monterrey, California USA. Co-authored with Dr. Kamal Dean Parhizgar.

[3] Kostopoulos, George. Education for the Third Millennium, a Workshop conducted at the Annual International Conference of the Business and Economics International Society, July 17-21, 1998 Rome, Italy. Co-presented with Ourida-Zoe Kostopoulos.

[4] Kostopoulos, George. Global Delivery of Education via the Internet. Journal of Internet Research, Volume 8, Number 3, 1998.

[5] Kostopoulos, George. Acceso Mundial a la Educacion a traves de la Red Internet. An invited address delivered in Spanish. Fourth International Congress on Educational Research. Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico, December 5-7, 1997.

The Authors

The authors are faculty at the College of Business Administration of the Texas A&M International University, in Laredo.

Dr. Eduardo Rivera holds an MS in Computer Sciences from the Scientific University of Grenoble, France and Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from the National Polytechnics Institute at Grenoble, France, and a Masters in Future Studies and Science Policy from the Social University of Grenoble, France, and a BS in Physics from the National University of Mexico. He has an extensive experience in consulting in educational computing, curriculum development, telecommunications and technology assessment in either industrial or academic environments. He is the author of several books, among them, Introduction to PC Computers and Computers in Education, and of numerous instructional material, articles and conferences. He has been a faculty in several universities including National University of Mexico, Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Penn State University. His areas of teaching and research are on-line education and business intelligence and databases. Dr. Rivera can be visited at http://www.tamiu.edu/~erivera/.

Dr. George Kostopoulos holds an MS and Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from the Arizona State University, an MS in Economics from the California State Polytechnic University, and a BSEE from the Pacific States University. He has an extensive industrial and academic experience, focusing on applied high technology. He is the author of two books, Digital Engineering and Greece and the European Economic Community, and of numerous instructional material and papers. He has been a faculty in several universities around the world including CalPoly Pomona, the University of Petroleum and Minerals, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida Atlantic University, Boston University, Greek University of Ioannina, the University of LaVerne and the Instituto Tamaulipeco de Investigacion Educativa y Desarrollo de la Docencia. His areas of teaching and research are global delivery of education and cyber technologies. Dr. Kostopoulos can be visited at http://www.tamiu.edu/~kostopoulos/.