Distance learning growing

A state-funded education program in Illinois that tracks distance-learning programs reported a 44 percent increase in enrollments since the spring of 2000.

The Illinois Virtual Campus (www.ivc.illinois.edu), a joint development between the University of Illinois and the state Board of Higher Education, has operated a statewide online course catalog connecting students with distance learning opportunities since the fall of 1999.

"What we've done is created and now operate a database that anyone in the state, or elsewhere, can access and explore opportunities in distance learning," said Vince Donahue Jr., assistant director of the IVC. "If someone wants to take classes on nutrition, simply search under that criteria and all the possible programs around the state are at your fingertips."

The IVC also reported that the number of online courses available increased from 1,001 to 2,615 in the year following the spring of 2000.

"I think ultimately people need to go to classes when they can attend," Donahue said. "Students shouldn't have to spend an hour on the road to get to class and an hour coming back. Students should be able to do their work when it's convenient for them, for example when their children go to bed."

The study for the spring of 2001 indicated that courses taught online were the most popular of the distance learning applications overall. Second most popular were those of "stored media," in which courses are taught using videotapes, audiotapes, CD-ROMs or DVDs. Stored media applications saw a 66 percent increase from spring 2000.

Community colleges accounted for about 75 percent of distance-learning applications, with public universities accounting for about 20 percent. Private institutions were responsible for the remaining 5 percent.

"This is an explosive area of potential growth," said Kathleen Clemens, a spokeswoman for the United States Distance Learning Association, (www.usdla.org). "Distance learning is going to be a $5 billion industry in the next few years."

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