Distance learning as a form of education has been developed before computer network advent, gradually increasing the range of used technologies. First they introduced a so-called case-technology: well-structured training materials were completed in a special set (“case”), which was then sent to a student for independent study. Over time, paper pamphlets and books were supplemented by records on magnetic media and CD-ROM, and teachers began using television technology conduct classes and lectures. Students still had to periodically attend full consultation of teachers (tutors) or instructors in specially created remote (regional) training centers.
The World Wide Web provided basis for network technology development to share knowledge, providing students and teachers with electronic books and libraries, convenient testing systems, as well as means of communication. Internet not only combines all previously known tools of training, but also significantly expands their list, has a significant impact on information culture in educational environment.
Types and forms of learning via the Internet
Most of learning centers can be divided into three groups according to the degree of “immersion” into the Internet.
The first group includes institutions, which work is based entirely on Internet technologies. A choice of course, its payment, training students, transfer of control tasks and their verification, as well as passing interim and final examinations are carried out via the Web. Such training centers are sometimes called “virtual universities” and not numerous because of high requirements for software program equipment and staff training, as well as the need for substantial initial investments.
Second, the largest group is represented by schools combining a variety of traditional forms of full-time and distance learning with modern innovations. For example, some universities transfer a part of their program courses into virtual form, and distance learning centers at the same time do not abandon the practice of classroom examinations. There may be many options here, but in each case only a part of educational process is computerized.
The third group includes learning centers using Internet only as internal communication environment. Their websites offer information on training programs (plans), seminars, and library catalogs.
Courses proposed in virtual learning systems can be divided into two types: credit and non-credit. “Credit” is a course approved at an accredited academic institution. A student passes it as part of curriculum for any degree and uses it as a step on a way to get a degree. (Each course has its own weight in credit hierarchy).
“Non-credit” courses include those designed to obtain additional or post-graduate education (e.g. for training) and not leading to a degree.
In fact, institutions offering non-credit courses form a system of “open education”. They emphasize the value of training program as it is, not caring about prestige of diplomas issued or weight of credit.