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Overview of the Different Types of Instructional Media

The earliest form of distance learning emerged over 120 years ago, in 1883. At that time the Internet did not exist. For the first 60+ years, correspondence was the only type of instructional media available. Correspondence is printed material that distance learning students receive and read at their own pace. Today correspondence is still used and typically it's combined with other types of instructional media.

Technology-enabled instructional media did not appear until the middle of the 20th century. For 40 years, as technology expanded at a rapid rate, so did the types of instructional media. The years 1950 through 1990 witnessed the development of television, audio tape, audio graphics and audio conferencing as the primary methods of instructional media delivery.

Early audio conferencing technology utilized the telephone and students were able to interact with their instructors. Audio tape was then and still is a self-paced method of learning void of visual media or instructor interaction. Television offered students something to look at, but the ability to interact with the instructor wasn't possible until a few decades later when satellite television was developed.

E-learning revolutionized instructional media delivery

The term e-learning emerged around 1995 and it was used to describe any instructional media that could be delivered electronically. Around this same time, the Internet was taking off and was literally changing people's lives. One of the most profound changes brought about as a result of the Internet was access to information.

E-learning branches off into 2 main directions: computer mediated learning and electronically assisted learning. The category of computer mediated learning includes computer-based training and online learning.

Computer-based instruction relies heavily on students' use of personal computers. It offers an interactive learning environment between student and computer since materials are stored on and accessed from the personal computer. With newer and better hardware, students could now view high resolution graphics, listen to audio files and learn online.

Online learning helped bring distance learning into the 21st century. Internet-based services and software provide a synchronous learning environment in which students have access to text chat, web conferencing, whiteboard presentations, audio and video files and more. This technology also enables students to share documents and applications.

Electronically assisted learning is what most people think of when they think of distance learning today. This branch of the distance learning family tree includes such instructional media as satellite, video conferencing, electronic whiteboards, video tapes and DVDs. Satellite e-learning enables students from all over the world to participate in a lesson being conducted from a single location. Audio teleconferencing equipment allows students to participate in the lecture in real time, allowing for a highly interactive, media-rich, synchronous learning environment.

Today's many distance learning programs incorporate the above instructional delivery methods to some degree. The methods chosen however are not random. Much thought goes into this selection because ultimately, the success or failure of the course as well as its students depends upon choosing the most cost-effective and efficient instructional delivery method.

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