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What Is Distance Learning?


The Distance Learning program provides access to quality education and instruction for both traditional and non-traditional students through various distance learning methods, i.e., North Carolina over Internet Protocol (NCVIP), online, and hybrid courses. Distance learning typically refers to the delivery of instruction in a non-traditional format in which the instructor and student are separated by physical distance. Students at Sampson Community College (SCC) have the option to take full college credit courses without the typical restrictions of time and location.

Hybrid vs. Online Course

  • Online courses do not require the student to attend a physical location and provide educational opportunities outside of the traditional classroom that can alleviate conflicts with work, child care, and transportation.
  • Hybrid courses allow students the flexibility to divide their course time to receive face-to-face instruction at a specific time and location as well as perform course work online at their convenience.


The North Carolina Community College System has developed a cost-effective process to centralize or “wholesale” the purchase and licensing of telecourses produced by independent vendors. This results in a savings of 50 to 65 percent compared to what the cost would be if each college purchased its own licenses.


Formerly known as the North Carolina Information Highway (NCIH), the N. C. Integrated Information Network (NCIIN), now provides videoconferencing technology to 47 community colleges and the System Office. There are a total of 76 sites, as some colleges have more than one site on the same campus or a site at a satellite campus. The map on page 37 identifies the location of the community colleges that have NCIIN video sites in each county.


Expansion of the NCIIN has been made possible by the Data and NCIH Consolidation Project, which is currently in the final stages of completion. The purpose of the Consolidation Project was to: (1) maximize the effectiveness of available funding supporting NCCCS data and videoconferencing services; (2) improve the data capacity at each college; and (3) prepare for expansion of video services across the state. To accomplish these objectives, two existing funding streams were consolidated. The Consolidation Project was made possible by migration to the new industry standard for videoconferencing and updating data routing equipment. The migration to the H.323 videoconferencing industry standard and upgrade of equipment has enabled NCCCS institutions to continue expansion of data and video services at an affordable rate. As ITS continues to work on behalf of the NCCCS to improve data infrastructure, costs of bandwidth become more economical.


New legislation is making a significant impact on the NCCCS distance learning program. This remarkable and visionary legislation has (1) established the importance of e-learning infrastructure, and (2) promoted collaboration among all North Carolina distance learning and e-learning providers that was not possible before.


Established by Senate Bill 1052 (G.S. 115C-102.15), the Business Education Technology Alliance (BETA) created the North Carolina E-Learning Commission to address infrastructure, policy, instruction, and legislation requirements to enhance e-learning across North Carolina. NCCCS staff members have participated with the NC E-Learning Commission to draft recommendations that address important areas for improvement; establishing a broadband data infrastructure, adopting standards-based learning technology, and supporting migration to scalable, consortium solutions to providing pre-K through 20 e-learning.

SENATE BILL 622 (S. L. 2005-276)

The 2005 session of the North Carolina General Assembly enacted into law S.L. 2005-276 as follows:

“SECTION 9.5. Funds appropriated in this act to The University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System for the UNC-NCCCS 2+2 E-Learning Initiative shall be used to fund further development of online courses for 2+2 programs. Based on a mutually agreed upon decision by the State Board of Education Chairman, the President of the North Carolina Community College System, and the President of The University of North Carolina as to the areas of greatest need, funds are available to support joint technology development, systems to track student progress and articulation between a North Carolina community college and a University of North Carolina campus, and to develop technology to support online courses and 2+2 programs.”

Funds in the amount of $1 million (recurring) were allocated to the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) to implement this e-learning initiative. A matching amount of $1million (non-recurring) funds was allocated to the University of North Carolina. A committee of staff from both systems has collaboratively developed the strategies and scope of work.


Teleconferences (tele-meetings) and videoconferences are produced and delivered to all 58 community colleges, either by the NCIIN or satellite. In addition, new services from the North Carolina Office of Information Technology Service will complement and expand access to videoconferencing technology. The first service makes possible digitizing and streaming of live teleconferences to anyone with a PC across the state or nation. A second service provides archiving of those digitized teleconferences enabling viewing of a teleconference on demand. A third service provides “collaboration” applications by which an instructor or event originator can either share their computer desktop and associated PC applications with (up to)10 individuals or broadcast to hundreds.


The North Carolina Community College System Virtual Learning Community (NCCCS VLC) is based on a collaborative model of colleges working jointly to provide quality instruction through Web-based technology. The Combined Virtual Course Library (CVCL) contains courses developed using a model that ensures both quality and flexibility while limiting course duplication. The CVCL consists of Internet-based courses that have been collaboratively developed by faculty from member colleges. The CVCL courses are based on a course template design model that includes competencies and content but allows flexibility in tailoring the courses to meet local needs. Any member college may access and adapt any CVCL course following the same policies that govern the Combined Course Library course offerings.


During the summer of 2005, the FCC resolved to support educational use of ITFS frequencies and established the Educational Broadband Service to update use of these valuable frequencies to accommodate wireless Internet services supporting the educational sector across the United States. When completed, the EBS network will provide broadband wireless connectivity to the Internet for 39 community colleges. This network will provide a means of delivering the courses of the Virtual Learning Community. Contract negations are currently underway to solidify this network.


The North Carolina National Guard (NCNG) and the North Carolina Community College System have a distance learning partnership that began in 1999. This partnership facilitates the NCNG’s goal of having all of their personnel in the state, both military and civilian, within easy driving distance of a distance learning or telecommunications classroom. Rather than placing these facilities in NCNG armories, they have chosen to place them in community colleges where the facilities can be used by the community colleges and other local, state, and federal agencies. The NCNG pays for state of the art video and computer equipment, installation, and any needed room renovations. There are nine such facilities in community colleges throughout the State. There will be a National Guard network over which most of the military training will be done by military personnel. Career enhancement training, for both military and civilian personnel of the NCNG, will be done over the state network (NCIIN). As soon as security issues can be solved, the two networks can be interconnected.


The N.C. Distance Learning Alliance Conference is now in its twelfth year. Originally called the NC Community College Distance Learning Conference, the conference merged with several related distance learning organizations to emerge as a K-20 resource for distance learning instructors, staff, and administrators.

Staff, from community colleges and the System Office, continue to assist the Distance Learning Alliance’s leadership in planning and implementation. The Distance Learning Alliance represents public schools, community colleges, public and private colleges and universities, and the NC Virtual Public School. The conference is a professional development activity that focuses on the utilization of all telecommunications or information technologies as a means of enhancing instructional services to the citizens of North Carolina.


In July 2003, System Office staff began to develop a system wide strategic plan in reaction to the explosive growth of distance learning enrollment at North Carolina community colleges. Enrollment projections, based on four previous years of growth consistently over 30% in distance learning courses, suggested immediate need for effective planning efforts to target distance learning expansion and support for the entire system.

The Plan was also needed to articulate a common vision and set of goals and objectives to facilitate the efforts of hundreds of distance learning instructors, support staff, and administrators. The resulting Plan involved the participation of community college Presidents, System Office staff, and dozens of community college personnel.

The Vision for distance education within the North Carolina Community College System:

The North Carolina Community College System will assist its colleges in serving students who would otherwise be unserved, expanding learning opportunities, making instruction accessible, and using technology to supplement classroom instruction. The Virtual Learning Community, supported by Learning Technology Systems, will provide hardware, software, content, and training to administrators and faculty within the North Carolina Community College System for their use in providing their students with Web based courses, telecourses, interactive video courses, and hybrid courses.

This plan expands upon the concepts of the Virtual Learning Community to include: Web-based course development; telecourse acquisition and publishing; interactive video course brokering; hybrid course development; hybrid course faculty training; and consortium purchasing and resource sharing.

The NCCCS Strategic Distance Learning Plan was approved by the North Carolina Community College Presidents’ Association, January 2004 and the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges, February 2004. The plan is currently under review.

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