Distance learning and collaboration systems are rapidly gaining momentum and importance as a method of sharing ideas and resources internationally.
As more and more business and teaching is being conducted internationally, both within multinational companies and educational organizations and between different companies in different countries, advanced communication systems are becoming more important.
These advanced collaboration and distance learning systems enable real time sharing of data and video images. Bringing team members together virtually, when face to face meetings would be too costly or time consuming due to lost time spent traveling. Video conferencing is an important component of a collaboration system as are data sharing applications.
There are two main differentiations in this type of system:
- Distance Learning System
- Collaboration System
- Streaming Media
Technically, the two systems mentioned above are very similar, it is in their usage and delivered content where they differ.
Distance Learning is used in educational and training roles. It enables instructors and lecturers to address classrooms and students which would otherwise be too difficult for budgetary reasons or time constraints. Distance learning allows guest lecturers to be invited to participate from anywhere in the world which has the requisite infrastructure. This can greatly improve the content of a course and lead to a wider appeal for fee paying course. A one-to-many (multipoint) relationship can also be established where a single lecturer can address many remote classrooms.
Distance learning of this type differs from Television or correspondence based courses in many respects. It is aimed at the 'instructor and class of students' model where there is real time bi-directional exchange of information. This means the students can ask the lecturer questions and get an instant reply. Videoconferencing enables the class too see the lecturer and visa-versa. When classroom software is also employed, the lecturer can monitor every student's computer and can take control of the computer in order to help work through a problem the student might be having. This can then be broadcast to every student as a case study or as an example of work well done. Tests and exams can be written and even auto-scored to get accurate feed-back of each student's progress.
Using a control system and delivering web-based control interfaces the instructor can even take control of the AV hardware in the room and will be able to effect lighting levels, the image source displayed on the projector. They can play and stop videos local to the classroom and all other functions available in the remote classroom. This ensures that the remote classroom can be turned onn and be ready for the class when they arrive.
This functionality will mean that a single lecturer can make presentations to a number of different countries in the same day, week or concurrently.
Organizations are using distance learning to be able to offer courses which would previously have been too expensive to be viable or where the course is too specialist to have a broad appeal to enough students.
The system to enable this type of real-time, interactive delivery of content requires the following:
- ISDN or Broadband network infrastructure
- Data sharing applications
- Networked student computers
- Control system