Looking Back at an Initial Impression

Access to Education: Global Learn Day

By Terrence R. Redding, Ph.D.

OnLine Training, Inc.

(Note – This was Dr. Redding’s initial reaction to Global Learn Day, almost twenty years ago. The GLD crew felt that it was still relevant today.)

No learning environment is ideal for all potential participants. Some individuals will find they are at a distinct disadvantage in one environment, while in another their disadvantages may disappear. Access for some may be restricted to distance education via the Internet. Online education is viewed by many as second rate (Hibbs, 1998). Why? The instructor and the student do not have face-to-face communications.

A year ago I would have agreed that online education is restricted by the lack of physical proximity. But that was before Global Learn Day 1 (GLD1), my first experience in a distance education online conference. I could hear speakers clearly via streaming RealAudio. I viewed PowerPoint presentation slides directly on my computer screen. I exchanged ideas with other participants and presenters in the Java Chat room. And I posed questions to the presenters through a moderator. In some cases I was also able to see presenters by using streaming video. I came to prefer the online conference over physical attendance. I had a more comfortable seat, could hear and see the content better, and actually had more access to presenters and participants. I missed the social interaction, but I was also not distracted by it. In 30 hours I went around the world hearing from some of the brightest and most innovative distance educators working today, all from the comfort of my home using a computer fresh out of the box with just a dialup connection to the Internet.

Internet technology does not yet convert the sensations of touch and smell to bandwidth, but in many ways Internet technology is far superior for some types of educational forums. I know that courses delivered via the Internet are often devalued as second-rate by traditional faculty and by the public who may view distance education as a poor second choice to attending class on campus. But I believe that within ten years, courses without a distant education (DE) components will be considered second rate.

Distance education via the Internet is not restricted to conferences. The company I am associated with, OnLine Training, Inc. (OLT), delivers educational content exclusively through online technology over the Internet to individuals in need of basic education or continuing professional education. Our students do not conform to the standard notions associated with age, grade, or development. For example, OLT has been developing and marketing a basic adult education program for the General Educational Development (GED) market. Our enrollment profile shows almost equal distribution among US students pursuing a GED, students overseas who need to pass the GED in order to qualify for college in the US, and young students ranging from those with learning disabilities to those who are “gifted”. Some are home schooled; others pursue online courses while attending public or private schools. If you open the door to education, and minimize the gate keeping, it is difficult to predict where the demand will be.

This past month I had an opportunity to speak to a graduate class of Human Resource Development (HRD) students at Florida Atlantic University. As we explored the pros and cons of distance education, I started thinking about some of the GED students with learning disabilities at OLT. One in particular, a young fellow of 15, came to mind. This lad’s speech is difficult to follow, with extended pauses between phrases. My guess is that in a traditional classroom he would not do well. He communicates too slowly to interact effectively with other students. Online he can take as long as he needs to put his thoughts in writing.

Online educational education has fewer barriers and presents wider access to potential student populations than do traditional schools. Students who require special accommodations in a traditional setting (and who therefore may be at a disadvantage) may not be at a disadvantage online. Whether that disadvantage is age, sight, height, mobility, speech, hearing, or whatever, these disadvantages often disappear online.

I am reminded of the commercial for the United Negro College Fund that concludes with the sentiment that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” How many minds will be educated at a distance that might not other wise be educated at all? And what of the contributions those minds will make to the human race?

Eight years ago I had a chance to make a presentation at an educational conference that focused on a Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment (SAREX) that I had conducted for 3,000 children in 21 schools in seven cities in Southwest Oklahoma. I was pretty proud of myself. I had involved a large number of children in a program that ultimately led to a group of students speaking live to the astronauts in the Shuttle as they orbited the earth. The entire exchange was broadcast on educational television.

A NASA scientist followed me. He described the development of a special wheelchair for Stephen Hawkins, a scientist suffering from Lou Gehrigs Disease, who could neither walk nor speak. This wheelchair provided Hawkins with access to the Internet and thus the rest of the world, to include libraries and the ability to write manuscripts and generate artificial speech. Last week I saw a presentation by Hawkins, from his wheel chair, using the artificial speech from the synthesizer in his chair-mounted notebook computer. He described being able to access the various research telescopes of the world via the Internet. His topic was the most recent discoveries by the Hubble Space Telescope and the implications for theoretical astrophysics and mankind’s understanding of the universe.

Eight years ago there were few that considered the implications of the internet as a distance education tool. I was not among them. Today, I still believe my SAREX was a significant contribution in the field of education. However, I believe the Hawkins’ wheelchair to be the more significant contribution because it allowed one of the great minds of our generation access to knowledge and the ability to share his understanding with millions if not billions of his fellow human beings. While I, with my SAREX, touched the minds of a mere 3,000.

I would compare Hawkins’ wheelchair to the internet for the globe, with one note: where the wheelchair was wired for just one man, I would compare the value of the internet to the value of a billion human minds online, to the thought that a single mind is a terrible thing to waste. Access to distance education via the internet will empower potentially billions of human minds.

Formal education requires a firm foundation: a frame of reference, theory, concept, and structure. However, none of these things are static. They, and our understanding of them, change over time. The pace at which they are changing is increasing. The internet is providing a means by which these structures can be discussed and understood on a global scale. Toffler (1970 and 1980) in his two volume set discusses the implications of “Future Shock” and “The Third Wave” for mankind. There are those who are over whelmed by the pace of change; who suffer from Future Shock. And, there are those who appear to thrive on change; who may be the Third Wave. Those on the internet, and especially those educated on the internet may well be Third Wave people. No one can predict the outcome of the advent of the internet as a distance education medium or the potential power it will unleash in mankind as a learning animal. But I believe its impact will be more profound then the advent of the printing press.

Our task as educators is to ensure that as many people as possible have access to the mind-expanding power of the Internet. The date for Global Learn Day 2 (GLD2) is rapidly approaching. It occurs Columbus Day weekend and begins with the rising sun in Guam, and, proceeding for nearly 30 hours around the globe, ends with the setting of the sun in Hawaii. Whether you are interested in distance education for yourself or an organization consider taking the opportunity to experience it first hand during GLD2. I know of no better way to celebrate mankind’s natural continuing conquest of knowledge than to encourage people to celebrate learning through the interconnection of the planet during Global Learn Day.

END.

Today, OLT offers Business Development, Continuing Professional Education and Personal Development Courses both with partner institutions and direct to the student. They do this by partnering with Subject Matter Experts and creating courses in house. If you are interested in a partnership opportunity, contact them!

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