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The effectiveness of distance education can be evaluated at the institutional level in terms of retention, and certification. At the student level, effectiveness can be evaluated in terms of skills mastered, increased salary awarded and new employment secured, as well as achieving other long-term goals. However at the societal level, the effectiveness of distance education should be measured in economic terms such as social capital. In rich developed regions, education can lead to increased social capital, community development and long-term achievements, but in poor undeveloped regions, the same education leads to social capital that can be socially divisive with increased inequalities. This Paper looks at how distance education can be structured so that social capital can be increased in poor undeveloped regions particularly in Asia - leading to reductions in social inequality. Distance education has had roots in correspondence education in rural areas for about one hundred years, and more recently with rural penetration of the internet for about twenty years, although in some areas of Asia there is still no internet communication. With the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008, this is an opportune time to re-evaluate the effectiveness of distance education, and see how it may be structured better to ensure the building of social capital. A transactional distance model is used based on social constructionism theory of knowledge being in relations and interactions, rather than positivist in the world, or cognitivist in the mind. The transactional distance model is well supported by other critical thinking models and by the theory of transactional distance. It is concluded that distance education often short-cuts structure - notably in skills training programmes, but also in general education, in regions throughout Asia - and that structure in the form of disjunctive reasoning and problem solving skills needs more attention. It is also noted that better instruments are needed to measure in context the long-term effects from distance education on social capital and lifelong learning.
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