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    Distance learning

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    There has been much discussion as to whether distance education can provide students with instruction that is equal in quality to what they have received from traditional education.

    Do you think an equivalent experience is possible via distance delivery? Why or why not?

    In your response, you should also address the issue within the context of instructional delivery for students with special learning needs. Include at least one source of reference.

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    Distance learning
    There has been much discussion as to whether distance education can provide students with instruction that is equal in quality to what they have received from traditional education. Do you think an equivalent experience is possible via distance delivery? Why or why not? In your response, you should also address the issue within the context of instructional delivery for students with special learning needs. Include at least one source of reference.

    This is an article that I used to answer this question when I was in my Master's program. I hope this helps as there are a lot of references that you can do further study with and you can use this to help guide you to some of the issues you will see need to be discussed in addition to your topic. If you need anything further, please do not hesitate to email me and ask. Thank you!

    Distance learning has increasingly come to represent the paradigm of using electronic means of communication via e-mail and the Internet to deliver a course or components of a course to a population of students who are not sitting in the classroom with the instructor, but rather are participating in the course remotely. The students may or may not meet the instructor in a face-to-face session, and the courses do not have to be place- or time-based.
    Distance learning is rapidly gaining acceptance as a valid means of course delivery on college campuses across the country. Colleges and universities view distance learning as a means to better serve their traditional audiences, as well as a way to expand their population, both nationally and internationally. In a recent survey (Market Data Retrieval, 2002) of 1,621 two- and four-year colleges and universities, 84% reported operating a distance learning program, with almost half of those schools (47%) providing programs leading to an accredited degree. The number of higher education institutions with distance learning programs in the 2001-2002 academic year increased significantly over the prior year's level of 70%. With distance learning rapidly becoming an accepted form of instruction, colleges and universities are struggling to enhance the quality of edification and scholarship over the Internet while trying to effectively integrate this type of learning into the college curriculum.
    As more institutions of higher education start offering computer-mediated courses, it becomes increasingly important that these courses be evaluated effectively. The model proposed in this article is based upon a review of the literature, examination of numerous evaluation models currently in use at various institutions, and the author's previous experience in offering distance learning classes. The model focuses on six constructs that distance learning courses should address during design and assessment.
    The six different constructs that comprise this model include:
    ? The Process of Teaching and Learning

    ? The Community of Learners

    ? The Instructor

    ? The Student

    ? Implementation of the Course

    ? The Use of Technology
    This article will examine each of these constructs and focus on the unique aspects that must be considered when developing and assessing a distance learning course. It will examine the issue of whether distance learning is, in fact, a new paradigm of learning.
    The Process of Teaching and Learning
    Perhaps the most pressing question regarding distance learning is what impact this type of delivery has on teaching and learning. When looking at whether online courses are comparable to traditional classes in terms of student achievement and learning, most research shows no significant difference between the two course formats in measures of learning outcomes in varied subject matter (Gagne & Shepherd, 2001; Green & Gentlemann, 2001; Johnson, Aragon, Shaik, & Palma-Rivas, 2000; Ryan, 2000; Schulman & Sims, 1999; Wade, 1999). These studies have found that the performance of students in a distance learning course was similar to the performance of students in the traditional on-campus course and that there were no significant differences in pre- and post-course differences and grade distribution. The findings of these studies show that online learning can be as effective as traditional face-to-face instruction with regard to achievement. Some studies show that online students outperform their on-campus counterparts and have higher achievement gains (Butzin, 2000; Hubbard, 2000; Morrissey, 1998). One factor to consider in these studies is that students may be self-selecting for online courses, and they may be better prepared and more highly motivated than the students who select on-campus courses.
    Moore and Thompson (1990, 1997) reviewed much of the research from the 1980s and 1990s on the effectiveness of distance learning, which included not only computer-mediated learning but two-way interactive video and a variety of other technologies as well. They concluded that distance education was considered effective when measured by the achievement of learning, the attitudes of students and teachers, and the return on investment. In addition, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association commissioned the Institute for Higher Education Policy to conduct a review of the current research on the effectiveness of distance education (Phipps & Merisotis, 1999). They found that, regardless of the technology used, distance learning courses compare favorably with classroom-based instruction and enjoy high student satisfaction. These studies suggest that distance learning students have similar grades or test scores and similar attitudes toward the course as the classroom-based students. However, many of the articles reviewed also emphasized that "there is a relative paucity of true, original research dedicated to explaining or predicting phenomena related to distance learning" and that "the overall quality of the original research is questionable and thereby renders many of the findings inconclusive" (Phipps & Merisotis, 1999, pp. 2-3).
    In terms of student attitudes toward online learning, research supports that students of all ages who are provided easy access to well-crafted computer-mediated distance learning classes generally have a positive experience taking this type of course (Abbott & Faris, 2000; Baron & McKay, 2001; Gagne & Shepherd, 2001; Mitra & Steffensmeier, 2000). However, these studies also point out that an increase in positive attitude is directly related to instructional approaches used, meaningful assignments required, supportive faculty, and involvement in meaningful discussion groups (Abbott & Faris, 2000). As Baron and McKay (2001) point out, having the requisite computer proficiency also affected the students' perceptions of the course. Those that entered a distance learning course with basic technical skills did not progress as well with the course content as those with more advanced technical skills and often found themselves overwhelmed by some of the assignments. Johnson et al. compared a graduate online course with an equivalent course taught in a traditional face-to-face format and took measures on a variety of outcomes including student satisfaction, grade distribution, and quality of projects handed in. No significant difference in the review of project ratings or in the grade distributions was found. However, students' satisfaction with their learning experience was slightly more positive for students in a traditional format. The findings of this study show that online learning can be as effective as the traditional format despite the fact that students in online programs may be less satisfied with their experience than students in more traditional learning environments.
    An important point agreed upon by researchers is that most studies ask the wrong questions about student learning. Parker (1998) did an extensive literature review for the Washington Community College area to help provide a framework for assessment methodologies in distance education. He concluded that technology has managed to become the subject rather than the object of discussion and that technology or modalities of instruction are less important than the quality and design of the instruction and communication they convey. Phipps and Merisotis (1999) concur on this point and suggest that the results of research seem to indicate that other factors such as learning tasks, learner characteristics, student motivation, and the instructor are important, not the technology. They claim that it is ironic how all the research they review ultimately winds up addressing an activity that is fundamental to teaching and learning, namely pedagogy, or how the course is taught.
    Because of the need to define effective instruction within this new paradigm, many researchers have developed principles or benchmarks of effective teaching of distance learning courses. Graham, Cagiltay, Lim, Craner, and Duffy (2001) developed seven principles that typify what much of the literature recommends regarding effective pedagogical practices:
    ? Instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students. They should establish policies describing the types of communication required and set clear standards for instructors' timelines for responding.

    ? Well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students. Discussions should be focused on a task, a task should always result in a product, and tasks should engage learners in the content.

    ? Students should present course projects. Students learn a great deal from seeing and discussing their peers' work.

    ? Instructors need to provide two types of feedback on a continuous and frequent basis: information feedback and acknowledgment feedback. Students need to know how they did on an assignment or within a discussion forum, and they need to know when an assignment was received electronically.

    ? Online courses need deadlines. Students need intermediate deadlines for handing in assignments.

    ? Challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations. A case-based approach involving real world problems with authentic data gathered from real world situations is recommended.

    ? Allowing students to choose project topics incorporates diverse views into online courses. Such principles as these reflect good overall instructional design in any class.

    The issue that needs to be considered in the process of online teaching and learning is the same one that must be considered with any course: What is the best way to teach students in this environment, and what factors would facilitate students' learning?
    Developing A Community of Learners
    Creed (1996) lists two characteristics of electronic communication that are beneficial: that it is not restricted to time and place, and that it is primarily visual and textual rather than aural. Therefore, this allows for
    ? increased accessibility to the information and the ongoing dialogue about the information,

    ? more pedagogically sound interaction with the information by students,

    ? more thoughtful discussion by students about the information,

    ? more equal participation in the ongoing discussion by all students,

    ? enhanced student interaction outside of class,

    ? unique classroom assessment techniques,

    ? archival and retrieval of ...

    Solution Summary

    describing distance learning including pros and cons.