Distance learning is relatively a new form of education, from the point of view of the time it appeared. The predecessor of the distance learning is the correspondence learning. In a correspondence study, a student received a set of learning materials via mail. It included textbooks, student guides and assignments that the student was obliged to do within the specified time. Later, this form of learning was supplemented with the educational radio and TV programs. Traditionally, distance education courses were designed with a heavy emphasis on a learner's independence and were usually self-contained. In general, the correspondence study did not include any type of feedback and communication with other participants of the educational process. The new information technologies, that appeared later, brought personal computers (with CAI, tests, simulations, electronic encyclopedias, etc), the Internet and other tools, which influenced the correspondence learning greatly.
Permanent contacts among all participants of the educational process within the entire period of education have become a reality today. Synchronous two-way, real time interactive technologies, such as audio teleconferencing, audio graphics conferencing and videoconferencing advance the DE. It is now possible to link learners and instructors, who are geographically separated for the real time interaction. Due to the rapid development of new information technologies, the physical distance between a student and a teacher is becoming not so influential for the learning process itself and its quality. The distance education is becoming much closer to the traditional face-to-face learning with the use of teleconferences online.
Many colleges, universities and high schools use them to unite students, who work at the same topic (problem, project) into collaborative teams, providing them with the mentor's or industry experts' support. This form of teleconferences online is used at the very beginning of the course, presenting introductory lectures. Simultaneously, the seminars or small group activities are usually organized in a form of the desktop audio and videoconferences. Students work at their projects and they use teleconferences online to make the presentation, to discuss topics with the other students, as well as to consult the tutor directly. In terms of control, the participants have the control over the interaction that takes place in the teleconferences online only to the extent that the instructional design allows it. The example of such courses is the system of teleconferences, delivered to students by the University of Calgary, Canada. Conference materials (e.g. an agenda, slides etc.), as a rule, are posted on universities' websites, prior to each session. Following each session, a Q & A document is posted.
As we look at distance learning technologies today and in the future, it is important to think in terms of an integrated system of teleconferences, rather than simply video vs. audio, vs. data systems. In spite of all the advantages that each system has, the universities that teach at a distance should move toward multi-media systems, integrating a combination of technologies both: synchronous and asynchronous to perfectly meet the learner's needs.