Course Rationale

Although the term distance education has been in existence for at least 100 years, it was not popularized until the 1960's when French and German educators used it to identify some programming activities. The evolvement since then has resulted in increasing distance education efforts, a growing body of literature, and more understanding of the process elements necessary for effective instruction. For example, scholars at Pennsylvania State University have initiated several distance education efforts. They established the American Center for the Study of Distance Education and publish the American Journal of Distance Education and DEOS - The Distance Education Online Symposium, an electronically transmitted service. Similar efforts are being developed elsewhere.

In essence, distance education is being used increasingly to meet the needs of adult learners. For example, driven by problems of access and economics, governments are seeking alternative forms of delivery to fulfill the demands for basic education, continuing education, and training. Great Britain's Open University is an example. Businesses and higher education institutions also are turning to distance education to meet part-time learners' needs, reach employees spread over large areas, or serve those people who are accustomed to the use of technology for learning efforts. In many communities today local businesses are exploring various distance learning approaches. New York State's Empire State College and SUNY Learning Network, Penn State's World Campus, and Nova-Southeastern's cluster and electronic programs are examples of how college credit courses can be delivered at a distance with electronic communication as an important tool.

Historically, distance education has implied some form or level of separation between the learner and a facilitator and/or learning resources. Correspondence study is a classic example of such an educational endeavor. However, today distance education is normally characterized by three criteria: (a) noncontiguous interaction between or among teachers and learners, (b) two-way communications between or among teachers and learners, and (c) the use of technology to mediate such communication.

The use of technology in the form of personal computers for home, business, and education has increased tremendously in the past decade and has impacted correspondingly on distance education efforts. At the same time notions about a global village and the information age are rapidly becoming reality as more individuals, organizations, and institutions communicate together or access various databases through large electronic networks like Internet. Thus, distance learners now have access to an ever-widening resource base outside of what an instructor can supply in a course setting.

The potential of such technological advancements is being tested in various ways. For instance, computer conferencing does away with traditional limitations of meeting length, participant numbers, and meeting time. Computer mediated conferencing (CMC) also is not bound by any geographic locations and its asynchronous communication nature facilitates various participation possibilities. Teleconferencing, audio conferencing, and various emerging multimediated forms of communication are other distance learning approaches taking advantage of constant technological change.

While a majority of CMC efforts to date have been associated with higher education institutions, the approach is being used increasingly in other settings. It has been used by Cooperative Extension for in-service training, by various business organizations for several courses on management training, and by many groups for personnel development. We will spend considerable time during the course exploring CMC as one distance learning example.

However, there are various implications for those who teach or train adults. This course provides a rationale for using CMC and other forms of technology in various settings. It also provides a forum for studying the strengths and weaknesses of various distance education approaches, the various software and hardware needs, and the impacts on those facilitating such learning. It engages learners, too, in understanding various issues that need resolving.

Thus, the purpose of this course is to help participants explore and learn about many aspects of distance education. It reviews various types of distance education efforts, the print and electronic resources available on and for distance education, and emerging trends in distance education. Participants also will gain an understanding of the various approaches to and problems with using CMC to meet a variety of needs and have actual involvement with computer mediated conversations as a means of experiencing learning at a distance. Therefore, each participant will need an email account or have access to the Internet via some other system.

The purposes noted above can be accomplished by considerable electronic discussion, dialogue, and interaction (the time we spend with CMC and the World Wide Web). In addition, students need to carry out some individual study by completing various learning activities and a major paper or project.

Areas of Learning

The following broad topics illustrate the range of possible study areas likely to be covered during the course. Some of the areas will be analyzed in great detail, some in passing, while others may become focal points for in-depth personal study. The list is not exhaustive, and as needs develop, more may be added (or subtracted).

· Understand the terminology, literature, theory, and approaches associated with distance education.

· Learn about various approaches to distance education, both low and high-tech forms.

· Understand the various technological forms of delivery, such as computer mediated communications, tele-conferencing, audio conferencing, etc.

· Learn about various teaching and learning issues associated with distance education.

· Develop a set of personal strategies for teaching, training, and learning at a distance.

· Examine various instructional design issues, needs, and approaches pertaining to distance education.

· Understand evaluation approaches and limitations associated with distance learning.

· Study various ethical, legal, and copyright issues associated with learning and teaching at a distance.

· Develop various management approaches that could be applied to distance education efforts.

· Create a real or simulated distance education approach for some organization.

· Experience learning at a distance via a CMC approach.

Each participant will have an opportunity to articulate personal learning intentions through a needs assessment process and the use of a learning contract (information and examples on contracting are provided in a course workbook).

Competency Expectations

At the completion of the course, given active participation, each learner should be able to perform with excellence as follows:

1. To demonstrate a general awareness of distance education terminology, knowledge, literature (both printed and electronic), and approaches.

2. To show increased awareness of the potential for and role of distance learning within the educational landscape, including an understanding of ethical and legal issues.

3. To demonstrate knowledge of various procedures involved with teaching or training via CMC (as one real experience with distance learning).

4. To demonstrate an ability to access various learning resources electronically (the Internet, World Wide Web, national or international listservs, electronic journals, and various other data bases or resources).

5. To demonstrate an ability to apply some aspects of distance learning to real or potential learning/training needs, including various instructional design activities. This can include learning activities such as the following:

a. Analyzing an educational access problem and determining whether or not distance education is an appropriate solution;

b. Making reasoned and informed choices among various approaches or methods used in distance education;

c. Describing needs, plans, arrangements, anticipated evaluation efforts, etc. for course development and delivery.

d. Specifying appropriate media and delivery systems for a planned distance education effort.

The Teaching and Learning Process

The teaching and learning process used is based on the premise that adult students are mature learners who flourish in settings where considerable independence is expected or permissible. Thus, the process is a dynamic one that actively involves the learner in determining personal needs, potential, and capabilities. At the same time, it is assumed that learners develop this independence at differing rates. Some people will be ready for considerably independent learning and will use the course requirements and the corresponding learning activities as vehicles for enhancing or supplementing personal learning. Other learners will require guidance, at least initially, in setting goals, establishing learning activities, and evaluating individual progress. The learning contract technique is used and either allows considerable freedom or may provide a fairly prescriptive path throughout the course depending on the learner.

Following are some of roles assumed by the instructor sometime during the course process:

- Serving as a resource on most course content areas and as a specialist on some of them

- Providing direct information on certain topics through  on-line lecturing, electronic inputs, a weg page, our CMC software (Webboard), facilitating group discussion, and various other learning aids

- Serving as a resource locator or securing new information on certain topics that emerge

- Arranging for special resources on particular topics, setting up outside learning experiences as appropriate, and providing resources or resource ideas on various areas

- Working as a stimulator or sounding board for learners as they progress through the course requirements

- Promoting discussion, the raising of questions, and a positive attitude about the learning endeavors

- Planning a sequence of learning activities and experiences that will maximize your opportunity to learn about distance education

- Serving as a validator, verifier, or evaluator of learner accomplishment both throughout and at the end of the course's time allotment.

Evaluation and Feedback

Evaluation and feedback are integral parts of any learning system whether a semester-long course, an intensive summer experience, or a personal learning endeavor. Evaluation is a tool for measuring personal progress toward individual or course goals. In addition, a formal institution like Elmira College requires that grades be established as marks for transcripts and degree completion.

Thus, in terms of feedback it is expected that the communication process will indeed be a two-way street. Feedback should reflect not only how well class objectives are being met, the effectiveness of any instructional facilitation, and the extent to which your individual needs are being fulfilled, but also the quality of student contribution and involvement. Consequently, your oral and written feedback relative to questions or concerns you may have, more information you need, and any evaluation you have of the process, the content, or the instructor will be welcome at any time.

Some techniques will be used throughout the course to help in this evaluation and feedback. In addition, learners will be provided evaluative feedback, if appropriate, via comments, advice, and resource suggestions in response to most submitted materials and your involvement in the electronic conversations during our CMC efforts. Hopefully, these activities will provide you some modeling regarding evaluation possibilities.

Personal evaluation and validation will come through the learning contract. Letter grades will be mutually negotiated and  it is assumed the quality of work submitted will be at a level reflecting the contracted grade. The plus and minus feature of the Elmira College grading system will be used as a means of adjudicating for major differences in terms of learners' participation in the course and/or the quality of any submitted learning products.

Textbook Requirements

The following book is required for the course. An extensive bibliography will be provided in a course workbook. In addition, various resources will be provided via the World Wide Web.

Schreiber, D. A., & Berge, Z. L. (Eds.). (1998). Distance training: How innovative organizations are using technology to maximize learning and meet business objectives. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Course Requirements

Following are the suggested course requirements:

1. Learning Activity #1 - Learning Contract Design

Complete a self-diagnosis of needs relevant to the course content, design and submit a learning contract (or plan) for meeting many of those needs, and carry out the planned activities.

Objective: To facilitate your ability to diagnose, articulate, and meet individual learning needs.

2. Learning Activity #2 - Course Participation

Participate in the course activities, including appropriate study, in-class and electronic discussion, and evaluation activities occurring during the course. You also will need to communicate with your learning partner (described in the course's workbook) as well as the facilitator and other classmates during the time we are using CMC through the Webboard software. This also involves making regular and thoughtful contributions to the large group's electronic discussion. You will need to access a web page on the World Wide Web dedicated to the course via your own computer or through a terminal on campus.

Objective: To facilitate your growth through contributive group membership and active learning participation.

3. Learning Activity #3ª - Accessing Electronic Data Bases

Various electronic or World Wide Web databases provide a multitude of possibilities in terms of accessing information. This learning activity has two components to enable your access of varied types of information as a means of understanding the value of such skill by a distance learner: (a) Join a listserv of your choosing (the workbook to be distributed in class contains considerable information on various national and international listservs and how to join them), and (b) search at least 10 different data bases and electronically download material from at least two of them (the workbook will contain search and downloading suggestions).

Objective: To facilitate your acquiring knowledge about accessing information electronically.

4. Learning Activity #4aª - Lead one session (depending on the class size, you will be allotted up to 10 days for CMC discussion on a topic some time during the course) of the course by presenting the concepts, issues, literature, and special aspects of some distance learning effort, case study, or approach (this can be done in teams if negotiated as a part of your learning contract).


Learning Activity #4bª - Prepare a case study of one distance education program with special emphasis on the factors which facilitated or hindered success and share a summary of your results with colleagues via the Internet (this can be done in teams if negotiated as a part of your learning contract).

Objective: To facilitate your obtaining some in-depth knowledge about a particular distance education effort.

5 Learning Activity #5 - Evaluate an aspect of some distance education program that you have participated in, that is available through your place of work, or that you discover on the Web. The product is a 10-15 page report summarizing your effort, making specific recommendations, pointing out problems with the software, etc.

Objective: To facilitate your obtaining experience in critiquing and applying an on-line distance education resource.


ª Or some negotiated alternative.

6. Term Project - Prepare a final course paper, project, or product by choosing one of the following options (the result typically is a 5-25 page paper or product submitted by the end of the time period allotted for course completion):

a. Acquaint yourself with the literature related to distance education. Note: This would need to be broader than just what you do for Learning Activity #4 and #5 so that you can maximize your learnings in the course. This would include reading of a fairly broad, overview nature and result in an interactive reading log, diary, journal, etc.

b. Participate in an on-line or face-to-face study group activity with 2 or more other people to develop in-depth understanding on some topic, problem, or issue related to distance education.

c. Develop a term paper on a topic related to the course area. The paper should draw upon both theory and practice pertaining to some aspect of distance education, should be well-documented, utilize appropriate literature, and follow conventional standards of style (APA 5th Edition is recommended).

d. Plan and, if possible, implement an actual use of some aspect of distance education for a training or teaching purpose. This can be something that you do involving your classmates, colleagues in your place of work, and/or some other group of your choosing. For example, you could create your own web page or develop a special resource that is added to some existing web page. Detailed information appears later in this workbook, but the intent is to facilitate your using your adult education, training, or planning skills in creating a short-term distance learning experience or resource for some adult learners. This activity can be done in teams if negotiated as a part of your learning contract.

e. Write a journal article for potential publication that in some way addresses a distance education issue, some of the ethical or legal issues associated with distance education, or some of the teaching/learning issues that need to be addressed in distance education.

f. Negotiate some activity of your own choosing.

Objectives: a. To facilitate your carrying out in-depth study, acquisition, and comprehension of knowledge related to some aspect of the course's content area.

b. To enhance your analytical skills in comparing, contrasting, and critically reflecting on various sources of information pertaining to distance education.

Tentative List of Course Topics

· The nature and scope of distance education

· Understand the terminology, literature, theory, and approaches associated with distance education

· Learn about various approaches to distance education, both low and high-tech forms

· Delivering distance education via technology

· Computer mediated communications, tele-conferencing, audio conferencing,  on-line courses and related software, etc.

· Teaching and learning issues associated with distance education

· Developing personal teaching approaches and strategies for a distance education effort

· Resources in distance education

· Designing and managing distance education

· Examining various instructional design issues, needs, and approaches pertaining to distance education

· Understanding evaluation approaches and limitations associated with distance learning

· Various ethical, legal, and copyright issues associated with distance education

· Application principles, strategies, and applications pertaining to distance education

Created by Roger Hiemstra, January, 2005

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