Distance Learning


March 06, 1991|By T. BENJAMIN MASSEY

COLLEGE PARK. — Education isn't just for young people. In a rapidly changing technological society, upgrading skills and supplementing education has become a critical component of career success as well as an important national goal. In recent years, a variety of commissions and studies has told us that America's economic competitiveness depends on finding new and better ways to educate and train workers.

Each year, a greater percentage of college students are working men and women for whom education is just one facet of a busy life. These students, out to enhance their career prospects by filling gaps in their education, cannot build their lives around educational programs that assume college is their top priority.

Consider the plight of a 30-year-old women with a small child, a full-time job and a desire to earn a degree. Or think about the mid-level executive, who is told he can move up the corporate ladder if he can only find some way to earn the degree he put on hold to support his family. What of the sales representative, whose travel schedule makes it impossible for him to attend classes with regularity?

These people need flexible class scheduling that lets them attend a university at times of their choosing. They need the opportunity to get an education without having to attend a remote on-campus location.

''Distance learning,'' the use of cable and closed-circuit television and satellite broadcast to deliver education to remote locations, is one way to relieve conflicts between the campus-based classroom and the demands of family and work.

Cable television and satellite broadcasts mean courses can be delivered to most living rooms, and video recorders mean these classes can be attended at any time. Formal higher education need no longer be confined by rigid schedules or limited to a building called a university. When students can't make it to campus, courses must be delivered to them.

The University of Maryland University College has joined eight other universities to form the National Universities Degree Consortium and establish a bachelor's-degree completion program that will be made available nationwide via satellite and cable television. Courses leading to award of a B.S. degree with a management concentration will be delivered by the national cable education network, Mind Extension University, whose programs are available in more than 11 million homes nationwide.

Both the content and delivery mode of the program reflect the need for new approaches. It should be a national goal to make university-level education available to all Americans even if they live hundreds of miles from a university in a place where there aren't enough students to hold a class.

The University of Maryland University College has, for some time, used computers, cable and closed-circuit television to serve students in remote parts of the state. But arranging for delivery of courses by an organization that already has an extensive national network is more efficient than doing it alone. Using Mind Extension University's network we can reach more students at lower cost.

It is the perfect marriage between educational institutions and private-sector expertise. Educators at nine universities will design the courses and technological experts will deliver them. It is the kind of innovative arrangement necessary to produce better educated workers.

Distance learning works. It is estimated that up to 650,000 Americns are already taking advantage of it in some form. Colorado State University grants a master's degree in business administration for courses cablecast by Mind Extension U., which is affiliated with 18 colleges and universities that offer telecourses for credit.

The degree program is designed for students who have already amassed considerable business experience. Traditional undergraduate business-administration curricula tend, by necessity, to focus primarily on learning facts and theory. But the management concentration offered through the National Universities Degree Consortium draws upon adult experience and knowledge with course work that directly addresses issues in global competition, business ethics, internal communications and managing a diverse and changing work force.

Our hope is that this new approach will be a model for future degree programs that serve the needs of part-time and older students. By encouraging the innovative use of technology we hope to prod educators at all levels to consider new ways to make university education more accessible.

Dr. Massey is the president of University of Maryland University College.

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