The use of broadband in the area of education is deep and wide, but still in its earliest stages of development. In the pre-broadband era – about 15 years ago – “distance learning” was generally conducted on a set schedule in a professional facility with the capability of satellite video to a small group able to pay a high fee.
With the wide availability of broadband this definition has been turned 180 degrees. Today an individual student can see a lecture at a time and place which best fits his or her schedule at little or no cost. Not only does broadband provide better access to coursework, but students taking those courses appear to do better than those sitting in a traditional classroom.
Broadband permits a wide variety of online learning experiences. Students can be directed to websites different from the course website. There they can stream a video or examine a famous painting; they can have an online chat with their teacher or professor; or students studying the same coursework can come together in learning communities in real time without regard to their physical geographic location. These “virtual study groups” have not been possible before the general availability of broadband.
Of greatest interest is the acceptance of adults to taking courses on-line. According to Philip R. Regier, the dean of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program, growth will be in continuing education programs In three to five years, he estimates, the current census of 5,000 continuing education students “could triple, with nearly all the growth coming online.” The use of broadband as students’ “in-home tutor” is well-documented. The ability to search the world’s libraries from a student’s home has had an enormous impact on the quality and depth of the educational experience for serious students.
Teachers who have had to use the traditional red pen to correct and edit papers and reports, can now use their computers to “track changes” and send the work back to students (and their parents) via e-mail for their review.
If education is the foundation of society, then broadband is quickly becoming the mortar which binds and strengthens that foundation.