Adult Education: The concept of adult education was considered new and revolutionary soon after it was introduced in 1918 by Syracuse University in New York State, with 18 courses and an enrollment of 300 students. A handful of other schools of higher education began similar programs about the same time.
As of 2001, whether for a teacher taking a refresher course, an adult employee attempting to acquire computer skills, or a non-native English speaker hoping to improve writing skills, continuing education courses provided hundreds of thousands of people an enjoyable way to keep their minds sharp, skills polished, and enthusiasm for learning alive.
A 1999 U.S. Department of Education report suggests that many adults consider such classes to be essential for their enjoyment and professional development. Based on a phone poll of 6,977 adults, the report concluded that adult and continuing education offers viable education options to boys and girls aged 16 and older and, especially, to adults of all ages. Classes that have a high demand are English for non-native speakers seeking fluency; General Educational Development (GED) preparation for students seeking high school equivalency; courses offering university credit toward an eventual associate, bachelor's, or graduate degree; vocational and computer skills classes; and personal development classes that serve one's avocation. According to the report, one out of every three adults surveyed said they had recently taken at least one adult or continuing education course.
Distance Education: As the price of education climbs, pushing it out of reach for students who cannot afford a year or more away from a job to finish an undergraduate degree or earn a graduate degree, distance education has become a viable alternative for obtaining additional skills, knowledge, and certification or credentials needed for career advancement. In addition, educators at the secondary school level have started to study distance education as an alternate possibility to educate students who for one reason or another fail to prosper when attending regular classes.
Throughout much of the second half of the twentieth century, distance education was regarded as a sort of useful adjunct to regular education. Classes mainly were conducted via correspondence or educational television and radio. Television, in particular, has been an attractive way to present information, since students have a strong sense of an instructor's personality as information is delivered. Many classes are videotaped by a professor and technical crew, then delivered by mail, delivery service, or electronic mail (as an attachment) to students.
But the development of Web-based courses on the Internet has been the breakthrough that proponents of distance education long had been seeking. Like television, video delivery over the Internet allows students to feel a human connection with the instructor. Unlike television, however, the Internet also allows students to interact with the instructor and other students in the distance-taught class. Industry estimates indicate that more than two million students were actively engaged in distance-learning classes in 2001.
Main drawbacks include limited possibilities for direct, face-to-face tutoring from the instructor, as well as the problem of access to a quality library, a deficiency that is being addressed through the development of online library facilities. Certain disciplines, such as the performing arts, have nearly insurmountable difficulties in terms of student-faculty interaction, although classes that might ordinarily be taught in large lecture halls actually may be more enjoyable via distance learning. Students who lack the motivation, discipline, or technical skills needed to maintain interest and to persist over time may also find such instruction methods less helpful.
It is likely that millions more adults will meet their educational goals in coming years with the aid of distance education. Most proponents agree that distance education appears to work best with adult learners who have already developed attention and discipline skills, and those who have the motivation to work hard in spite of distractions and work responsibilities. It also works with traditional students on campuses who choose to satisfy some of their educational requirements online, while still attending classes with other professors.
Distance learning may also be developed to a greater degree to serve prison inmates who wish to earn a degree while serving their sentences, giving them more job opportunities following release, and increasing their chances of attaining successful rehabilitation. Persons who live in rural areas far from educational institutions of higher learning also are afforded the opportunity to obtain knowledge and degrees they otherwise could not have accomplished without leaving home.
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