One of the major disadvantages of distance education is the isolation of learners. In traditional education, it is easy to find guidance for instructors and students. Students often form informal student groups, and participation in an academic institution alone can stimulate motivation.
E-learning technologies can help isolate single learners by enabling communication with educators and their peers.
Such technologies may be asynchronous, that is, essentially bulletin boards where users send messages to others to view and respond to their own time; or synchronous, that is communication is in real time.
Sync Conferencing Applications originally contain text chat systems. As Internet bandwidths have grown considerably, these systems can already support audiovisual conferences. When selecting a mode of transport, account shall be taken of: (i) students established in developing countries do not have the technological capability for audiovisual support; ii) learners in the second language can easily follow the text message on the screen.
General purpose messaging software, such as Windows Live Messenger, Skype, and Yahoo! Messenger can be used for educational purposes. In many cases, students can already use these services. Alternatively, a product specifically designed for e-learning, such as Elluminate, may be used.
Synchronous software can support e-learning in a number of ways, for example:
* Instructors provide predefined seminars on specific topics, reflection on university lectures, or tutorials. In such cases, it is important to avoid monologue and to provide many opportunities to participate to take advantage of real-time collaboration.
* Instructors and auxiliaries are "office hours" in which students may raise any concerns.
* Special guest guest lists can be invited to present (from their own location) and answer questions.
* The facility would be available for student-to-student co-operation, either through specific projects or through general courses.
Where a student body is internationally based on the timing of meetings, it must be dispersed so that everyone has at least a chance to participate in the right time. Different sessions can start at different times or (same or different) can be offered twice (or more) on the same session to maximize attendance.
Many people choose either open or distance learning for the flexibility they offer. It is important not to jeopardize this flexibility by making compulsory participation in a synchronous session.
Ideally, synchronous sessions should be recorded and made available after the event. This minimizes the disadvantages of those who can not attend and gives the participants the opportunity to review the procedures.