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Getting A PhD Degree In Distance Learning - Achieving The Mastery of Online Education

By: Bob Carper

One of the most innovative and exciting applications of internet technology is in the field of Distance Learning. Here,instruction in any field and any topic takes place around the world. Time and travel are no longer any impediments. This article discusses factors involved in becoming a recognized authority in this field.

What is "Distance Learning?"

Distance Learning is a field of education that focuses on instructional systems design that delivers education to students who are not physically "on site" to receive their education. Instead, teachers and students communicate by exchanging printed or electronic media, or through technology that allows them to communicate synchronously in real time The types of distance learning courses are as follows:

1 Correspondence conducted through regular mail
2 Internet conducted either synchronously or asynchronously
3 Telecourse/Broadcast where content is delivered via radio or television
4 CD-ROM where the student interacts with computer content stored on a CD-ROM
5 PocketPC/Mobile Learning where the student accesses course content stored on a mobile device or through a wireless server

Origins and History Of Distance Learning

Modern distance education has been around at least since Isaac Pitman taught shorthand in Great Britain via correspondence in the 1840s. Since the development of the postal service in the 19th century, commercial correspondence colleges have provided distance education to students across the country. Computers and the Internet have only made distance learning easier, just as they have for many other day-to-day tasks.

One of the oldest distance education universities is the University of South Africa, which has been offering correspondence education courses since 1946. The largest distance education university in the United Kingdom is the Open University, which was founded in 1969. In Germany, the Offern University in Hagen was founded in 1974. There are now many similar institutions around the world, often with the name "Open University".

There are now many private and public, non-profit, and for-profit institutions offering courses and degree programs through distance education. Levels of accreditation may vary. Some institutions offering distance education in the United States have received little outside oversight. Others may be fraudulent diploma mills. In many other jurisdictions, an institution may not use the term "University" without accreditation and authorization, normally by the national government.

In the present day, radio, television, and the Internet have all been used to further distance education. Distance education programs are sometimes called correspondence courses, This was an older term that originated in nineteenth-century vocational education programs that were conducted through snail mail. This term has been largely replaced by distance education, and expanded to encompass more sophisticated technologies and delivery methods.

In Distance Education, students may not be required to be present in a classroom. That also may be a question of option. As far as an electronic classroom or Virtual Learning Environment goes, it may or may not be a part of a distance education setup. Electronic classrooms can either be on campus or off campus. We would call such institutions as using a flexible delivery mode.

Distance Education may also use all forms of technology, from the printed page to the computer. This range will include radio, television, audio video conferencing, computer aided instruction, or e-learning. A distinction exists between open learning and distance learning. "Open" education is the system in which the student is free to choose any time and place. "Distance" education is a teaching methodology used when the student and teacher are separated by time and place.

Distance Education has traversed four to five generations of technology in its history. These are print, audio/video broadcasting, audio/video teleconferencing, computer aided instruction, e-learning/ online-learning, and computer broadcasting/webcasting. Yet, the radio remains a very viable form, especially in the developing nations, because of its reach. The increasing popularity of the iPod, PocketPC and Smart Phone has provided an additional medium for the distribution of distance education content, and some professors now allow students to listen or even watch video of a course as a Podcast. Some colleges have been working with the U.S. military to distribute entire course content on a PocketPC to deployed personnel.

Thus, it follows that not all open learning institutions use distance education and not all organizations that use distance education are open learning institutions. Indeed, there are many cases in which students are in traditional classrooms, connected via a video conferencing link to a teacher in a distant classroom. This method is typical in geographically dispersed institutions. Conversely, the term virtual university is sometimes used to describe an open-learning institution that uses the Internet to create an imaginary university environment, in which the students, faculty, and staff can communicate and share information at any time, regardless of location.

Importance / Significance Of The PhD In Distance Learning

A PhD degree in distance learning has thus become the most prestigious degree awarded in the field of education these days. The PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is awarded for a number of specializations including

1 Instructional Design for Online Learning,
2 Leadership for Higher Education,
3 Leadership in Educational Administration,
4 Postsecondary and Adult Education,
5 Professional Studies in Education, Training and Performance Improvement.

The PhD degree is awarded in recognition of
a) An original contribution to the subject,
b) The demonstrated mastery and knowledge of the subject or
c) For conducting and presenting scholarly research on a selected topic. This is known as the doctoral thesis or dissertation.

Educational Requirements for the PhD Degree

An earned doctorate degree in distance learning requires completion of a master's degree in education accompanied by two to five years of postgraduate research training. Some institutions may not require a master's degree, if the candidate has relevant expertise. The aspiring doctoral candidates in distance learning are selected on the basis of written and oral examination. Then, they must conduct the research on their chosen subject and write a dissertation. On completion of the research, doctoral students have to satisfactorily present the dissertation before a committee of professors in the field, and then must defend the dissertation.

The registration period to achieve a full-time PhD is a minimum of two years and a maximum of three to four years. There can be broad variations from university to university. Most of the PhD programs in distance learning have a residency requirement. Doctoral students are required to spend a specific time at their chosen university. This provides the support and valuable sources of information from fellow students and instructors.

Advantages of Acquiring a PhD Degree

The PhD degree in distance learning can lead to a high level position in a number of educational settings whether they are traditional, corporate or online. The PhD program in distance learning is designed to prepare researchers a in the field. It includes coursework, internships, and independent work in distance learning course planning, data analysis, and instructional theory. A PhD degree is required to become a professor, dean or an administrator in an accredited university.

The PhD degree in distance learning is offered by a number of accredited universities. Some of them are Un iversity of Phoenix Online, Walden University, Capella University, University of Maryland University College, Boston University, University of Florida, etc. PhDs in distance learning offered by these universities prepare students to lead and manage challenges in a variety of educational settings. The program provides expertise in designing, organizing, teaching, and evaluating course work for online education.

If any educational specialist aspires to achieve a high level position in any type of educational set up or to gain indepth knowledge and expertise in the field of distance learning, a PhD degree is extremely helpful. In some instances, it may even be mandatory. Opportunities in this area may abound as we go forward in this year 2007.

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