Guide to online learning

Although distance-learning courses are becoming more accepted and available,

finding out where they're being offered can pose a significant challenge.

To ease the problem, Pennsylvania's education department has launched

a free Web-based service as a clearinghouse of distance-learning courses

being offered across the nation.

"If you need a phone number, you go to a phone book; if you need an

Internet listing, you go to Yahoo. But there's no equivalent if you need

a distance-learning course," said John Bailey, the state education department's

technology director. "We're providing a matchmaking or directory service

for that."

The state launched the Web site, called the Distance Learning Exchange,

in part to promote what Pennsylvania's schools, colleges, universities,

agencies and vendors were offering, Bailey said. A recent study found that

school districts were videoconferencing with other districts within a 30-mile

radius. But Bailey said the government thought schools could be reaching

out even farther.

Pennsylvania's site, he said, lists 230 courses or "activities" — anything

from virtual museum tours to accredited college courses.

People can search the site by a particular activity, subject, provider,

grade level or technology. Activities are listed for a range of ages and

can take any form of distance-learning technology — videoconferencing, Internet,

CD-ROM, satellite or videotape.

Bailey said the state picked up the $50,000 to $60,000 to develop the site.

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