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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding distance education McLardy, Ailsa


"Get a university degree at home in your spare time!" proclaim the back covers of magazines. Is this distance education? In fact, what is distance education? There are many definitions of distance education in the literature. They represent distance educators' understanding of the field, and it is partly on the basis of this understanding that professionals develop progams and services. Do learners have the same understanding of distance education? If learners hold different views from educators, the discrepancy may create problems. Therefore, the writer investigated the conceptions of distance education held by learners who had recently begun distance studies at the university level. She interviewed fifteen learners and analyzed the interviews using phenomenography. This is a qualitative methodology with certain limitations which are discussed in the study. Phenomenogaphy attempts to reveal phenomena as they are perceived by individuals. Consequently, it was the most appropriate methodology to discover learners' conceptions of distance education. The investigator found four conceptions of distance education; they can be seen as a seed with a sprout. The kernel is distance education perceived as structure and learner actions; this conception is inward-looking. Around the kernel can develop two other conceptions: distance education as freedom and flexibility and distance education as difficulties counterbalanced by other factors. The fourth conception has two parts: distance education as a door opener (a) to future goals and (b) in everyday life. This is the sprout growing out of the kernel; it is an outward-looking conception. An analysis of the definitions of distance education in the literature revealed nine themes representing educators' understanding of distance education. There is a close relationship between these themes and two conceptions: "distance education as structure and learner actions" and "distance education as difficulties". On the other hand, important aspects of these and the other conceptions are not represented by the themes. Those missing aspects are all learner-centred. Although much is written about learners being the focus of distance education, the definitions in the literature indicate a drift from that ideal. It is time for educators to make distance education truly learner-centred.

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