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A recent survey of state directors of adult education reveals that state leaders are increasingly viewing distance learning as a delivery mechanism that can reach adults who are unable to attend traditional adult education classes due to work or family commitments, lack of transportation, and other obligations. It can also help bring adult education to the millions of adults who are not currently involved in an adult education program.

Ok so who here is involved in distance leaning ??

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Distance learning is a large part of what I do too … although when you get going, you soon find that the boundary between distance learning and campus-based learning is more there in theory than in reality.

I work at a Swedish högskola (a bit like the old UK polytechnics) in Kalmar, in southern Sweden. If you find the long, thin island just off the south coast of Sweden, Kalmar's the town on the mainland opposite it. We serve a geographical area about the size of England, from Motala to Finspång (both towns up towards Stockholm), down to Falkenberg to Emmaboda (both towns just north of Skåne, the last county before Denmark).

We use a mix of technologies and methods, partly depending on the pedagogical requirements of the particular course, and partly depending on what's available. There's an extensive network of study centres in our region, and we can use their level of technology as a base line for our students. In other words, an individual student doesn't have to have a particular programme or particular computer, since these are available at the study centre down the road.

The study centres get their funding from various sources, and we have to adapt our course delivery to this. So far we've used ISDN video conferencing extensively, since many of the centres were getting EU funds for this. As this funding dries up, we're going over to using IP-based video conferencing, which doesn't allow us to address groups at a time, but it doesn't cost the centres anything like so much.

Some of our courses are entirely web-based (Business Writing is a case in point), and many of them include students who are way out of our geographical area, in places like Abu Dhabi and New Jersey. We commonly use Internet tutors to mark send-in tasks and to give individual help to students. The team have been working together since 1996 and currently consists of tutors in Australia, New Zealand and Spain. We pay them 25 euros per hour (gross) at the moment, and they are hourly-paid teachers at our college on the same basis as the locally-based ones, except that they don't pay tax in Sweden.

The findings of the survey which started this thread are exactly in line with our experience in Sweden. The Swedish government is explicitly using distance education to bring in non-traditional students. The 'profile' of a distance student in our area is a woman in her 30s, with two children, a steady job, a steady relationship and an established life in a local community. Sweden's always been big on 'second chances' in education, so there's a widespread acceptance that your educational qualifications are going to have to 'adjusted' a number of years after you left full-time compulsory schooling. The problem is, of course, that it's very easy to formulate the broad general goals, but a whole other thing to realise them!

The Swedish Net University was set up a couple of years ago to try to coordinate efforts in net-based distance education. Most of their site is in Swedish, but you can get to the English pages by going to:


and clicking on In English.

Their latest scheme is something called 'Librarian on Duty'. The idea is that a distance student can chat with a librarian in real time in the evenings to get advice about what kind of books she needs for a particular essay. During the day, the student can get advice via e-mail. The service is shared out between a number of different universities, so that each place has a particular evening when their librarians are on call. This is what I call a bit of essential infrastructure for distance studies.

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