About this Article
Written by: Kim Vu
Written on: November 1st, 2001
Tags: communication
Thumbnail by: U.S. Census Bureau/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
In Fall 2001, Kim was a senior majoring in computer science at the University of Southern California. She is interested in the emerging field of web-based learning.
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Volume II Issue I > Connect to Education
Many engineering advancements have aided in the progress and quality of education. In previous generations, distance and distributed learning did not replicate the quality of learning available through traditional face-to-face methods. Recently, distributed and distance learning (better known as e-learning) has evolved from video taped recordings to satellite broadcasted web lectures. Supported by new collaboration technologies and connectivity through the World Wide Web, the quality of education through digital content has dramatically improved. This new generation of learning can revolutionize the way people learn by providing online collaboration and quality education, with the flexibility to learn at anytime and from anyplace. This paper will examine the differences between distance and distributed learning, e-learning benefits, and the immediate need for technology-integrated learning.


In Ray Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, the author paints a morose picture of a brainwashed, technology-dependent​ society deprived of the basic element of education -- books. In today's society, new forms of technology, like the World Wide Web, have the potential to replace the fundamental tools of education, arousing fears that our society may evolve into Bradbury's futuristic world. The fear that these advanced technologies will corrupt and diminish the quality of traditional forms of education has sparked much debate over the pros and cons of integrating technology with education.
However, history has revealed that technology has assisted and promoted education since the dawn of man. For example, the abacus, invented in 300 BC, made counting and calculating easier. In the fifteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press enabled the widespread dissemination of books and information. Without such inventions, the distribution of information may have never taken place and would have drastically altered the advancement of education through the centuries [1]. Today, high performance computing, collaboration technologies, and the World Wide Web are revolutionizing the way people learn. The era of life-long learning has arrived and engineering advancements such as distributed and distance learning should be viewed as educational achievements that help, rather than cause damage to mankind.

What is Distributed and Distance Education?

Distance Learning

Distance learning and distributed learning are often considered synonymous because of their similarities. However, there are subtle differences between the two forms of education. Distance education refers specifically to instructional training that enables students to participate in a course remotely or at a distance (see Fig. 1). Although the most popular form of distance education is televised delivery, there are a variety of other distance learning course designs, such as web-based training, CD-ROM instructional software, and computer-based training. Depending on the design of the course, distance education can be synchronous, occurring at the same-time, or asynchronous, occurring at different times.
NASA / Tom Tschida/Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: Students from Indonesia speak with American students via a live internet connection.

Distribut​ed Learning

Distributed learning, on the other hand, refers to the integration of computer-based learning materials in a course, such as lecture notes, homework solutions, practice exams and other tools used to supplement the course. These educational resources help students gain a better understanding of the subject matter taught in class. Both distance learning and distance education are new methods of e-learning meant to promote teaching effectiveness and improve student access to quality education. With further advances in technology, new forms of distance education may develop to help improve students' learning experiences while tailoring to students' needs.