Page 3 of 6More than two decades ago, Bates (1984) noted that "developments in technology are bringing advantages to distance teaching and removing some of the disadvantages ... through promises of lower costs, greater student control, more interaction and feedback as well as a wider range of teaching functions and a higher quality of learning". These remarkable transformations are taking place today not only within the operating environment of distance education but also in all digitally supported education provision in most parts of the Asia Pacific. Digital technologies are replacing analogue and electromechanical solutions, providing greater functionality at lower costs, and enabling efficient networking and utilization. While the educational community has been somewhat slower in adopting these tools than the business community, the pace has started to pick up over the last 10 years, giving rise to improvements in administrative efficiency, better student record management systems, improved course development protocols, a higher level of learner support, and resource-rich learning environments.
As recently as a decade ago, the choice of technologies for delivering education was somewhat limited, partly because they were expensive, analogue stand-alone technologies with limited versatility, and requiring many skilled technicians to create and deliver the product. But today we have a different picture. The limitation to technology application in education is no longer the versatility, convenience, cost, and potential of the technology, but the limitation of our imagination in the way they can be applied. Through integration, convergence, miniaturization, and intelligence, the technologies have become "friendly". The question is no longer whether technologies are useful in the teaching and learning environment but which technologies are best suited for a particular purpose.
Digitization has made it possible to design, develop, deliver, manage, and assess the learning process in many new ways. This is because the new digital technologies are not single technologies but combinations of hardware and software, media, and delivery systems. They are rapidly evolving and converging as seen in personal computers, laptops, notebooks and personal digital assistants; digital cameras; local area networking; the Internet and the World Wide Web; Compact Disc-Read Only Memory (CD-ROM) and digital video discs (DVDs); mobile learning, podcasting, and video sharing tools; and productivity software such as word processors, spreadsheets, simulations, email, digital libraries, computer-mediated conferencing, video conferencing, and virtual reality. The new digital technologies also have a capacity to integrate with the older analogue technologies, making it possible to retrieve information stored in older technologies and to develop synergies between the old and the new.
The new technologies differ significantly from the older technologies in their integration of multimedia, convergence, interactivity, flexibility of use, and connectivity. Until recently, however, their application for development, including education, in the Asia Pacific region has been narrow rather than broad. Fibre optic-based systems, which are a key part of the new information infrastructure in many locations, have not penetrated the peri-urban and rural hinterlands. But coupled with satellite technologies and working in tandem with other wireless systems, they can provide a window of opportunity for education systems to reach far beyond what until a few years ago could only be imagined.
The use of satellite technologies in delivering education, health services, and telecommunication is well documented. An important part of the ongoing economic, social and technological revolution that has come about with the advent of the Internet age are the opportunities provided by the newest forms of satellite communications technology and applications, such as the World Wide Web, multimedia knowledge products, video-conferencing, and video-lecturing options, as well as enormous amounts of data transmissions. These innovations are helping institutions to reach the unreachable. And they are making possible a paradigm shift in the way educators view teaching and learning.
For one, the new ICTs are stimulating a resurgence of interest in diversifying methods of education delivery. Almost on a daily basis, a Web-based course becomes available from one university or another. "Smart Schools" are springing up in the richer parts of Asia and "virtual learning", "online learning", and other newer forms of educational delivery are becoming part of the educational jargon of the new century. These new developments both reflect and give rise to a growing realization among education providers that in order to successfully implement flexible, easily accessible education reaching the masses, they have to reassess their methods, means, structures, and resources.