Distance learning, or education over the Internet, is now offered by 75 percent of all U.S. universities according to InterEd, and one-third of all colleges according to Market Data Retrieval (both are educational market research firms). As many as 5.8 million students have logged on from home or office. Even prestigious universities subh as Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford offer electronic courses. Phoenix University launched a for-profit venture that has more than 12,500 students in its on-line programs. The enrollment champ appears to be University of Maryland University College with 40,000 on-line students.
Although education via television or videotape has long been available, Internet courses are more popular because they let students interact with faculty and other students via e-mail and discussion boards.
Most institutions offer a select number of courses, rather than entire degree programs, but nearly one-third of on-line students are pursuing an accredited degree. The bulk of the on-line degree programs have concentrated on the MBA because MBA candidates typically are employed and want to pursue extra education.
The vast majority of institutions that offer courses and programs via the Internet do not require the student to come to a campus. Among the exceptions is Duke University, which offers an entire MBA program on-line, but requires students to spend five weeks on campus and an additional two weeks in a foreign country.
A faculty committee at a community college in California studied various options and concluded that only a program that combines “high tech” and “high touch” would succeed in keeping the majority of students in the program. “High tech” programs with no face-to-face contact between faculty and students and among students result in high dropout rates. The committee, therefore, devised a hybrid program similar to Duke's.
Dozens of studies show a reference to libraries is missing in many distant learning programs. Educational institutions spend as much as $1,200 per year per student to build and maintain collections and to provide reference service. A random check of 10 institutions revealed that distance educators have not approached the library to arrange for books by mail, remote access to full-text databases, or borrowing privileges at academic libraries near their students. If the students are using libraries, they appear to be limited to nearby public libraries.
Library directors could benefit by taking an active position with regard to distance learning. Here are some ways to increase library use among distant learners:
- Make sure all on-line products and services to which the library subscribes are available remotely to anyone who is currently registered as an on- or off-campus student.
- Provide off-campus students with information about the library and the necessary log-on instructions and user identification number.
- Make books available by mail and ensure borrowing privileges at an academic library near the student.
Since supporting distance learning affects a library's budget, directors likely need to submit a specific budget proposal to support it. To support the increased budget, directors can point out that library support makes an institution's program more attractive to potential students.
Librarians at institutions that offer distance education should obtain a copy of a Copyright Office report called “Copyright and Digital Distance Education.” The report recommends that Congress amend the U.S. Copyright Act to eliminate the physical classroom requirement in section 110(2). This would allow digital transmissions of copyrighted materials to students officially enrolled in courses. Currently these materials are only permitted in a physical classroom. Another recommendation, if adopted., would allow a copyrighted work to be uploaded onto a server for subsequent transmission to students. The report is available at www.loc.gov/copyright, or it may be purchased from the Government Printing Office by calling 202-512-1800.