Animation, video clips, automated grading, interactive testing, on-line discussions - the Internet is changing the way people think of education. 'Over several generations, distance learning has evolved from correspondence courses to video and satellite broadcast models of remote learning,' Desmond Kwok, managing director, Lotus Development Software (HK), said. One of the shortcomings of distance learning had traditionally been the lack of personal contact between teachers and students. This, however, was changing, with the advent of chat rooms, e-mail and video-conferencing. 'The connectivity of the Internet and a new generation of software applications is bringing distance learning up to these standards,' Mr Kwok said. 'They make possible a new model of on-line learning - one which provides significantly higher quality and flexibility and which is more appropriately labelled 'distributed learning'.' Mr Kwok defined distrib uted learning as 'a variety of technologies, learning methodologies, on-line collaboration and instructor facilitation to achieve applied learning results not possible from traditional education in a truly flexible, anytime-anywhere fashion'. There is a greater need among those trying to acquire knowledge and skills to be able to learn from any location at any time. This has been made easier through information technology. 'The Web is accelerating our ability to create and distribute digital content and to teach and facilitate learning and collaboration on-line,' he said. 'All of these factors are coming together to create the conditions and environment for substantial training and education to be delivered on- line.' Two market segments - higher education and corporate training - had started the shift from traditional same- time and same-place teaching patterns to various methods of distributed learning. 'These two areas have similar needs: to increase the efficiency of preparing and delivering courses while simultaneouslyshortening the time required to deploy them, all with regard to high-quality learning to cost-effectiveness,' Mr Kwok said. Distributed learning could completely change the way education was delivered. 'Distributed learning technology must, therefore, become a platform for the three major modes of distributed learning: self-paced learning, which enables students to study course materials, test themselves and get feedback without the involvement of the teacher; a synchronous collaboration, in which interaction between teacher and student is not bound by time; and synchronous collaboration, in which teacher and students interact in real time,' he said. The distributed learning platform should be flexible to support the integration of these three learning modes. 'Such a platform must also provide scalable management and administration tools for creating and operating not only single courses, but catalogues, enrolment and registration, record-keeping and scheduling. 'In other words, all the functions required to operate a campus or a training department in the real world.'