Educational Policy Recommendations
Education and the use of technology are
at a point of evolution. Schools and institutions are being forced
by changing demographics and tightening budgets to establish
new priorities and re-evaluate how education can serve the needs
of rural and metropolitan needs. K-12, higher education and corporate
training all have issues and interests which cross. Educational
technology has become so sophisticated that it permits improvements
in teaching productivity and the quality of education. Further
investment in research, equipment and educator training are needed
to realize the potential. The primary burden to date has been
carried by local and state institutions. The burden of developing
the national infrastructure has been carried by the telephone
companies. Additional issues include policy and licensing which
will improve the cost-effectiveness of distance education programming.
Educational organizations have been dealing
with policy recommendations for their members, local/state/national
legislators. In July, 1991, USDLA as part of its mission to provide
national leadership, convened a National Policy Forum.
The early 1980s found the country in a
severe recession. We were deeply concerned about our economic
future. Many Americans were persuaded that our economic prospects
were dim as long as the quality of education continued to decline.
A litany of private and public studies and reports documented
the decline and offered a vast array of solutions. The early
1990s find the country again slowly recovering from a recession.
While there has been much debate, there has been only scattered
success in restructuring and improving America's schools. Many
now recognize that the decline of our educational system at all
levels from K-12 through higher education, is only one of many
areas of growing concern in our economic infrastructure. The
nation's highways and railroads, water and waste systems, communication
networks, education and corporate structures all represent areas
requiring attention if we are to meet the challenges and global
competition of the 21st century.
The global economy of which we are a part
is information driven and operates at a pace in excess of our
prior experience. A new understanding of the infrastructure standards
necessary to support the kind of information based work force
our nation must have is required. The new infrastructure requirement
challenge the most basic premises of the American economic system.
Our current infrastructure developed the
world's most productive economy. Our success was based on a national
communications system unequaled by our competitors, mass production
technique that made it possible to employ modestly skilled workers
to produce high quality, inexpensive goods in large volumes and
a transportation system that was fast and efficient. Today, communications
and transportation systems are more competitive worldwide, and
workers in other nations are willing to work longer hours and
for lower wages than their American peers. We can continue to
compete in this manner, but only at existing global wage levels
with a corresponding massive decline in our standard of living;
or we can revise our view of the market and the role of the worker.
High wage level societies will be those
based on the use of highly skilled workers backed by advanced
technologies and with ready access to a deep array of knowledge
bases. Economic advances will be dependent upon improvement in
intellectual rather than manufacturing productivity. In order
to compete we must rebuild our economy to match the needs of
the information age.
This restructuring is clearly linked to
economic success and it depends on a strong education system.
Redefining our national resources is not only necessary to prepare
Americans for work but, even more importantly, to prepare them
as citizens in a self-governing society. We must provide access
to shared cultural and intellectual experience to enable citizens
to make informed judgments about the complex issues and events
that will characterize the 21st century. The cost of not doing
so may be more than a decline in our standard of living, it may
also cause erosion of our democratic tradition at an unprecedented
time in history when the world is moving closer toward the democratic
model. We cannot fail in our leadership now.
The critical natural resources of the information
age will certainly be education and access to information. While
the nation cannot ignore the pressing problems of health care,
environmental waste or decaying cities, we must create a national
vision that will focus on the long term economic health of the
country. Without this we will not have the resources needed to
combat the myriad problems facing us in our increasingly small
world. A new national vision has begun to recognize the interdependence
of education, information access and economic development. We're
at the beginning of this now. We've had several national Net
Days, the national Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, the Star
Schools Projects and the Challenge Grants from the US Department
of Education, and th PTFP and TIIAP grants from NTIA. We're on
the way to creating the vision of the future for education, but
still millions of dollars short of the vision. At least we've
The United States Distance Learning Asociation
(USDLA) represents universities, K-12 schools and corporate training
interests in an association of thousands of members. USDLA is
in the midst of completing its chapter expansion to all states.
USDLA is uniquely suited by purpose, membership and experience
to help articulate the vision that it has helped to create. Thus,
when it called upon distance learning leaders from all over the
nation in July, 1991, and again in January, 1997 for its National
Policy Forum, the organization was able to gather together some
of the most experienced practitioners in the U.S. to help explore
policy issues and establish guidelines for new policy and legislation
in the US and in the separate states
Distance learning facilitates high performance
education by encouraging new instructional techniques and by
allowing electronic access to information from any location.
Educational technology, in class or at a distance, is beginning
to have a profound impact on the organization of schools, the
way students are taught and coursework they can access. It is
not only an educational tool, but also a driving force behind
restructuring efforts in member organizations.
Many successful corporations and schools
have already reorganized with technology in mind to capitalize
on its potential as a problem solving and information leveling
device. Many of our members represent national leadership in
distance learning and their institutions do things differently
to accomplish better results, often at the same or less cost.
Recognizing the many demands on our national resources, educational
technology can be the key to improving student and teacher performance
while maximizing the use of resources. While in no way a replacement
for the teacher, distance learning can cost effectively be a
factor in reducing the monetary burden of rare and traditionally
expensive specialized resources to the classroom. Distance technologies
can expand teaching resources to include practicing scientists,
business people, government leaders, health care specialists,
parents and seniors and that helps to involve students. The restructured
school must bring these resources to the classroom and substantially
supplement or replace the dated, non-interactive material used
today if we are to realize the goals of "American 2000"
as set out by the President and Secretary of Education.
That students learn in a variety of ways
is an accepted fact. Yet, most instruction today uses group lecture
techniques that fit the learning styles of only a few whose primary
learning style is listening. Educational technology allows facilitators
to customize learning and to move toward individual and small
group collaborative learning. These are the very skills needed
for high wage earner societies hoping to compete in a global
Distance learning might better be described
as personal learning, for it removes the barriers of space, time
and location. Since Socrates, effective education has relied
on conversation and debate between students and facilitators.
Personal learning technologies facilitate both, through a wide
variety of resources. Interactive dialogue can happen via interactive
television, audio conference calling or computer conferencing
and interactive Web pages. Interaction with the content can be
carried out through CD-ROM, computer, simulations and other interactive
technologies. Delayed dialogue can happen via voice or electronic
mail. No one technology, delivery system or mode of dialogue
is best suited to meet the needs of all students in a class.
It takes all technologies to meet all the needs and provide a
depth of learning that ensures that the material is learned,
applied, and is retrievable when the learner needs it.
The ubiquity of all distance learning technologies
will ensure that we can reach all individuals regardless of their
location, learning style or when they are available to learn.
There are, however, significant barriers
to using these powerful new tools. Today's education, communication
and information policies and regulations were developed long
before the advent of distance learning capability. The Telecommunications
Act of 1996 and the Snowe-Rockefeller amendment that creates
a universal service fund for education corrects the inequities
of the past. New technologies, particularly computers and digitally
processed and transmitted information, have blurred or eliminated
institutional boundaries in the once discrete world of voice,
image and video. New policies must be put in place that remove
these barriers so the nation can realize the benefit of distance
To define these new policies, the USDLA
has convened two National Policy Forums. Over ninety leaders
in distance learning representing educational and corporate distance
learning providers and users, equipment and transport providers
and federal and state policymakers convened to debate the changes
in education and communications policy needed for the 21st century.
The recommendations that follow represent
their concerns and were unanimously approved by the USDLA Board
of Directors as representing the interests of the membership.
They encompass both education and communications policy, the
inexorably linked cornerstones of our new economic infrastructure.
In order to accelerate and fulfill the
tremendous potential of distance learning and educational technology,
federal, state and local government should: