Distance Education and the Digital Divide: An Academic Perspective
This paper will address how the digital divide affects distance education. Lack of access for some students does raise concerns. Access to technology is often defined by what students don't have: what is called a digital divide. Access also is defined by the speed of Internet connections. Access in the future will be even greater as more computers emerge. The divide is huge. "Even as more Americans purchase computers and flock online, most of the disparities that emerged during the latter half of the 1990's remain" (Mossberger, Tolbert, & Stansbury, 2003, p. 35). Whose responsibility is it to bridge the worldwide digital divide? Policymakers and politicians who are in a position to effect change, because it is not just an education issue. The society is becoming an information-laden one. The more information that can be collected the better. Industries are relying on information in order to stay competitive. "However, there remains a digital divide based on race/Hispanic origin, income, location (central city and rural areas), and other demographic characteristics. The lower socioeconomic and minority groups continue to fall further behind the more affluent population" (Sarkodie-Mensah, 2000, p. 23). It is important to remember that access is still a barrier for many distance learners. This is effectively shutting them out of the opportunity to connect with the rest of the world, engage and participate as a lifelong student. This is changing with the rapid introduction of broadband. In an article in the Community College Journal of Research and Practice, Cedja stated, "The disparity in broadband connection between rural and urban and suburban is important to address, however as the use of broadband technologies in distance education continues to increase" (Cedja, 2007, p. 299). Broadband is important to the distance education population because most distance learning courses will recommend that you have a broadband connection. By definition, a broadband connection can accommodate the rapid transfer of large amounts or packets of information. To raise rate of the broadband offers faster services are delivered to end users.