Distance Learning Security
Distance learning security, copy control, and copy protection
What is the difference between elearning and distance learning?
Academics might say that elearning is about academic studies, whilst distance learning is a much broader subject which includes training and more general information. It is beyond the scope of this article to comment as to if there is a difference or not, and in whose mind.
However, distance learning requires that providers of distance learning make available their information to people who are, by definition, at a distance from the provider. This means that distance learning courses have to be delivered in the absence of an instructor, and in the absence of formal physical controls as a means of protecting the information that is being delivered.
A typical scenario for this type of learning is the delivery of a training course that allows people to gain a certificate (a Microsoft training course, the CISSP examination, ISO 17799/27000 certification, self development, office skills and so on) for some specific personal or business purpose.
Naturally, the providers of these courses are not expecting their material(s) to be made available to anyone except those who have signed up for, and paid for, the relevant distance learning course.
So if there is to be any copy control, the digital information they provide for distance learning must be proof against copying and re-distribution by their students. Because if there is no copy control, then anyone may be able to make use of the study materials in order to gain the certificate, without ever having paid the supplying organization for their expertise.
So what is distance learning copy control?
Distance learning copy control, rather like IPR control and digital rights management control, is about making sure that information provided cannot be copied by the recipient and passed on to others in a form that they can readily use.
The only effective method for preventing people from being able to use information held on a computer is to encrypt it. If it is not encrypted then there is nothing preventing people from being able to copy that information and make such use of it as they decide, without any regard to the creator or owner of that information. However, encryption can only go so far. Once the course material has been decrypted it can be readily shared with others. That is where digital rights management controls come in.
Now that is not a recipe for commercial success for distance learning course providers unless they, and they alone are able to award the certificates that prove that their students are adequately qualified to be awarded academic status and recognition. So Universities may not need this level of security (unless, of course, their lecturers have Copyright in their own personal input into the distance learning materials), but the vast majority of distance learning providers require a mechanism that prevents their students from being able to copy their proprietary material(s) and share it with others who have not paid the relevant fees in order to have access to that expertise.