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JILT 1997 (1) - Moira Simpson

Daniel Minoli's

Distance learning technology and Applications

Artech House, Inc., 1996, £59.00
xx + 352pp ISBN 0-89006-739-2

Reviewed by
Moira Simpson
University of Strathclyde

Distance learning, in networked environments is enjoying a revival in its fortunes. There is certainly a renewed interest in this model of learning particularly with regard to the use of networked technology with a variety of new and not so new technological solutions are being applied to education. This book provides a clear and concise guide to their uses and implementations, bullet point lists are used to provide useful and informative summaries of the arguments and issues both technical and educational relating to the use of a particular technology . This approach is particularly useful in the more technical sections, such as the case studies in chapters ten, eleven and twelve, where a great deal of otherwise inaccessible (at least to non technicians) material is presented in an attractive and informative manner.

Although dealing only with the US experience (Chapter Five is a state by state account of the provision of technology based interactive distance learning), many of the dilemmas which underpin concern over the future of education from the point of view of both educators and policy makers are familiar; the decline in the teaching of mathematics and science, a comparative weakness in basic skills such as literacy and numeracy and difficulty in retaining an industrial base in the face of competition from the emerging economies of South East Asia. The book addresses itself to the concerns of education providers, corporate employers, public policy makers, the administrators of educational institutes, and explores in great detail the various technical and educational issues related to the implementation not just of a new infrastructure but of a new approach to education - one no longer one attempting to make round pegs for round holes but pegs with a capacity to re shape themselves should the need arise! A seminal point of the book is that life long learning will no longer be a remote ideal to be pursued only by those with sufficient funds to enable them to withdraw from the 'real world' of employment but an integral part of an employee's experience of work.

This point was recognised by The Bangemann Report (Europe and the Global Information Society- Recommendations to the European Council) which identified Distance Learning as one of the 'building blocks of the information society'. Likewise, The European Union recognises that Europe's economic future is dependent upon finding a means by which the energy of the `Information Revolution' can be harnessed to provide benefits and potential for development. Both Europe and the United States are faced with the challenge of having to develop an educational system which can provide both flexibility and accessibility to a work force which will be required to renew its knowledge and skills on at more frequent intervals than was formerly the case. It will be a more complicated and less structured world even a far less secure world but a world with interesting possibilities. The implications for university teaching are that the emerging pattern of education is likely to be that there will be a demand for shorter more specialised courses each attracting small numbers of students - probably not in the same physical location thus necessitating a distance learning based approach to the provision of education.

Employment in the 1990s is now characterised by flexibility and insecurity, two sides of the same coin, one cannot be assured of lifelong employment and retain the ability to change one's pattern of work in accordance with changes in one's personal life. Universities were once criticised for their tendency to produce graduates who conform too rigidly to external employment requirements. However, the successful graduate in today's economy will not be one who is only able to conform to one corporate culture and to submit to forty years sustained commitment to one industry. A successful graduate will be one who recognises the need to continue learning and to expect a number of different 'careers' over his or her lifetime.

Distance Learning Technology and Applications deals primarily with what have recently been christened 'Intranets' , that is corporate or institutional based network solutions. Although the Internet is dealt with in Chapter Nine, interestingly, it is on the basis that it is a short term substitute for the NII , the National Information Infrastructure (which is conceived as being a coalition of the networked components of the industrial and commercial sectors). Minoli doubts that that the Internet can provide sufficient reliability and security, not to mention adequate information value filters, to make it a suitable environment for education. Most readers would probably sympathise with some of his reservations about the Internet - that it lacks reliability and that much of its content is of a low value, however further points that the internet may spread 'negativism and cynicism' are not explored in any detail.

To a certain extent, such observations are valid. The provision of highly specialised educational content will not be best suited to a public forum such as usenet news group, a public Web site or an open to all discussion conference. There would be little point in using a potentially global forum for the provision of a specialist topic which requires networking to make class size viable. The growing interest in `Intranets' as a means of providing support for the transmission of private data relevant only within a particular organisation or institution demonstrates that there is an increasing awareness of the distinction between use of a global network for communication and use of a private resource for a particular purpose.

Distance Learning Technology and Applications would be of most interest to those seriously considering the provision of either education or training in a networked environment but who are uncertain as to what is available , the check lists of good and bad points related to each type of technology makes the book particularly useful for this investigative purpose. For those already involved in the provision of distance learning, there is still much that can be learned particularly by reading the detailed case studies - even if only to discover that some problems never change - a student evaluation form commented that 'Students would have benefited from receiving more documentation.'

Date of publication:

28 February 1997.

Citation: Simpson M, 'Daniel Minoli; Distance Learning Technology and Applications', Book Review, 1997 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

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