Distance Education


This course is about distance education. Distance education is defined as: “planned learning that normally occurs in a different place from teaching, requiring special techniques of course design and instruction, communication through various technologies, and special organizational and administrative arrangements.” The history of distance education is closely related to the evolution of different communications technologies, but as indicated by the definition, the study of distance education covers much more than technology. It focuses primarily on teaching, learning and all the pedagogical (or andragogical) issues — as well as administrative and policy issues — that are associated with teaching and learning of a special kind. In short, this is a course about education, not technology. And since the great majority of distant learners are adults, this is a course also about adult education.

From this course participants will increase their knowledge regarding:

  • The concepts and history of distance education.
  • The principal providing institutions and different types of distance teaching organizations.
  • The principal communication technologies used and their instructional qualities.
  • The procedures of course design used to teach online and by various media.
  • Teaching methods and giving learner support.
  • The characteristics of learners and learning at a distance.
  • Problems of administering and managing distance learning programs and institutions.
  • Policy issues in distance education, both at the institutional and national levels.
  • Distance education as an international and global phenomenon.
  • The theory and research foundations of distance education.

Unit 1 – Overview of Basic Concepts

Objectives of Unit:

  • Write a definition of distance education that you can explain to others.
  • Differentiate among the main types of organization in the field.
  • Explain why distance education has been considered important in the past and the present.
  • Describe distance education as a system and describe the main components of such a system.
  • Use the resources and understand the procedures to be used in the remainder of the course.

Informal Discussion

Unit 2 – The Historical Context

Objectives of Unit:

  • Describe the history of distance education in terms of distinctive stages of evolution.
  • Describe the motivation of distance education pioneers for promoting this method of teaching.
  • Explain the historical significance of the AIM project and also the Open University.
  • discuss contemporary events with references to historical antecedents.

Formal Discussion Unit 3– 5/5

Unit 3 – Organizational Structures and Agencies

Objectives of Unit:

  • Give examples of distance education programs in “for profit” institutions, higher education institutions, K-12 schools, the armed forces, corporations and the professions.
  • Explain emergence of inter-institutional collaboration in consortia and virtual schools and course sharing.
  • Recognize involvement of software and other vendors.
  • Know sources for researching each of the different institutional types.
  • Know some of the issues concerning new entrants into the distance education field, such as vendors.

Essay  – Research these institutions and write an essay as if you were giving a talk to a class of freshmen on the American Institutions of Distance Education: the Current Picture.  No more than 750 words.

“GRADE: 10/10  Shannon: Good work on this assignment – exactly what I was looking for and well referenced examples – full credit.  Gary”

Unit 4 – Technologies and Media

Objectives of Unit:

  • Explain the strengths and weaknesses for teaching purposes of text, audio, and video media.
  • Explain how these media are delivered by print, synchronous and asynchronous audio and video, and computer based technologies.
  • Explain the emergence and significance of Internet 1.0 and Internet 2.0.
  • Be acquainted with Second Life virtual reality and the Museum of Distance Education and Technology.
  • Suggest potential teaching applications of mobile technologies.
  • Understand the difference between Presentation and Interaction and how media and technology may be used for each.
  • Describe the principles of media and technology selection and media and technology integration.
  • Explain the concept of blended learning.
  • Explain learning objects and related progress towards standardization.

Unit 5 – Designing Distance Education Courses

Objectives of Unit:

  • identify the main components of a well structured distance learning course.
  • relate course design procedures to learning theory.
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of course team and single author approaches to course design.
  • explain the character and significance of the study guide, whether electronic or text.
  • explain the procedures involved in designing programs for deliver on the Web.
  • explain the significance of monitoring and evaluation procedures as central to course design.

Formal Discussion – 5/5 – We were provided with an overview of the ADDIE model, the development team (author-editor model, course team model) and their strengths and weaknesses, the design of the study guide, web conferencing,  the design & development of web-based courses, the design of student participation, monitoring and evaluation, and finally copyright issues in course design.

The homework assignment was to answer the question, “How do the course design and development methods used at your organization (or perhaps the one you are currently studying at) compare to those discussed in this chapter?”  5/5

Unit 6 – Teaching and the Role of Instructors

Objectives of Unit:

  • State the main principles of the interactive phase of teaching in distance education.
  • Describe the instructor’s role in web-based delivery.
  • Differentiate the different types of interaction.
  • Describe the role of instructional design in setting up interaction.
  • Explain the connection of the instructor to the assignment as central to the teaching process.
  • Describe the role of on-site tutors in blended learning.
  • Discuss common concerns of faculty regarding their role in distance education.

Essay 2  – Write an essay of 750 words commenting on the issue, “Some instructors interfere too much and some don’t intervene enough!” The essay was to be written on the basis of the sites visited and your reading in this module ( and your own experiences).

“GRADE: 10/10  Shannon: I enjoyed reading your reflections on the readings and weblinks on the issue of instructor involvement – certainly personal experiences (good or bad) help to “flesh out” such concepts.  One factor you did not mention that I think is important is the level of the course.  An undergraduate course is, by definition, very different than a graduate course in terms of the expected level of self-directedness in the learners.  At any rate, an “A” paper here.  Gary”

Unit 7 -Learners and Learning

Objectives of Unit:

  • Characteristics of adult learners and say why distance learning is very suitable for adults.
  • Importance in providing access.
  • Learning styles and their relevance to successful distance learning.
  • Other factors that affect success and the likelihood of completing courses.
  • Influence of cultural factors, educational background, and student attitudes.
  • Characteristics and importance of student support services for distance learners.

Informal Discussion

Unit 8 – Management, Administration, and Policy

Objectives of Unit:

  • Discuss the management activity of strategic planning of a distance education program.
  • List the main administrative functions and decisions involved in running a distance education program.
  • Describe the issues involved in administering staff, learner support, libraries, and budgets.
  • Discuss the concept of quality assessment and the role of regional accrediting commissions.
  • Discuss the main policy issues at institutional, state, and national levels.
  • Discuss the specific issues of institutional change and the digital divide.

Formal Discussion – 5/5  What are the main policy barriers to implementing a distance education program (or a better distance education program) in an institution or state that you know about, either from personal experience or from your reading? What possible steps might be taken to overcome these barriers?

Unit 9 – Theory and Scholarship

Objectives of Unit:

  • Explain the value of theory for practice as well as research.
  • Describe some main events in the history of distance educations’s scholarship and its theory.
  • Identify some of the pioneer theorists.
  • Describe the concept of distance as a pedagogical phenomenon.
  • Discuss the theory of transactional distance.
  • List other theories that have evolved from transactional distance.
  • Write a theoretical statement on a research problem of interest to you.

Essay 39.5/10 Choose any question about distance education that you feel could be worth researching. Connect the question to one of the theories in this unit and chapter if you can. Find at least five reports of research on that topic published in the past 5 years and write a 600-word review of this research. In this exercise you are trying to show a “pedigree” (i.e., what has been researched already) so as to point out where there are missing links that would be filled by further research. Add 150 words to explain what data you would need to answer your question, where you would find the data, and how you would collect it.

Unit 10 – Research and Studies on Effectiveness

Objectives of Unit:

  • Factors that determine the effectiveness of distance education programs.
  • Studies of learners’ achievement.
  • The concept of “no significance difference.”
  • Effective course design.
  • Media and technology selection and applications.
  • Teaching strategies.
  • Cost effectiveness.
  • Policy that impacts effectiveness.
  • Give your own opinion regarding what are the areas most urgently in need of research.

Informal Discussion – Organize a simple typology for yourself for classifying the different kinds of research you come across. To do this, decide on four headings that you could use to divide the various research articles you have found. Make a list of three articles in each of the four types. You might like to post your list with the four headings.

Unit 11 – The Global Span of Distance Education

Objectives of Unit:

  • Describe at least one major distance education institution in each continent.
  • Describe differences between foreign single mode institutions, consortia, and dual mode institutions.
  • Describe at least one major international association of distance education
  • Describe the policies and practices of at least one agency involved in global distance education.

Formal Discussion – 4.5/5 – From what you have read about distance education in other countries, what do you think can be learned, or might be copied, by institutions or governments in your own country? (For most students that means the USA.)

Unit 12 – Distance Education is About Change

Objectives of Unit:

  • Describe and discuss some trends in information, technology, program design, and organizational structures that may make a major impact on distance education in the future.

Final Paper: Distance Education is About Change is the title of the last chapter of the textbook and is the title of your final paper. Choose two topics from the textbook (a topic can be a chapter title, a section or sub-section) and describe developments in those areas over the past two or three years. If you are able to suggest how these changes may affect distance education in future, do so.  2500 words including references.

GRADE: 29/30


Overall a very good job on this final assignment.  An interesting topic and good array of resources.  My only concern was that the resources did not contain much from peer-reviewed academic and professional journals.  Still an “A”, but remember to root future work a bit more in the journal resources.  I have enjoyed having you in class and hope the semester was a fruitful one for you.


Overall Course Grade: A 98/100 points