2.1. Closer look into distance education. 4
2.2 Academic challenges of distant learning. 5
2.2.1. Ineffective organisation. 6
2.2.2 Inadequate student preparation. 6
2.2.3 Lack of interaction. 6
2.2.4. Inflexible Course and Learning Technologies. 7
2.2.5. Cost Effectiveness. 7
2.2.6 Attitudes towards distance education. 7
2.2.7. Instructors concerns. 7
2.2.8. Evaluation. 8
2.2.9 Intellectual property and learning insecurities. 8
2.3 Quality of teaching in distance education programs. 9
2.4 does distant learning meet expectations. 10
2.5 Distant educations and the provision of professional development for students. 11
2.6. Positive and negative impact of distance Education. 11
2.6.1 The positive impact of distance learning. 11
2.6.2. Negative impact of distance education. 12
3.0 Definition of Key Terms And Concepts.. 12
3.1 Concept 1: Closer Look in to distance learning /education. 12
3.2 Concept 2 : Academic Challenges. 12
3.3 Concept 3: Quality of teaching. 13
3.4 Concept 4: Expectations. 13
3.5 Concept 5: Professional development 13
4.0. Research methods: Methods Summary of Research Results from Different Sources 13
5.0. Recommendations.. 13
6.0. Conclusions.. 14
Works Cited.. 15
In the 21st century distance education has increasingly become a popular method for colleges to grant access to their programs to students who would not otherwise be able to pursue. Distance learning occurs when the instructor and the student are separated by geography or time constrains. Electronic means are used to distribute the learning materials. Distance learning programs are designed to meet the needs of students that arise in traditional classroom settings. Internet facilitates most of distance learning programs. Distance learning ensures people get additional work training while balancing work and family commitments, the programs have been faced by many academic challenges. This literature review will have a closer look at distance education, its challenges, quality of teaching and the professional development for students.
Key words (distant learning, instructor, programs and internet)
Academic Challenges of Distance Learning
1.1 Background information on distance learning
A brief discussion on the underlying principles of distance learning will help us understand the academic challenges facing distance learning and if it meets the expectations of the students.
The theory of independent study was introduced by Moore in 1973. This theory is a key foundation of distant education as it suggests that successful teaching can occur even when the teachers and learner are physically separated in the course the learning process. This paper will not differentiate between the non traditional, electronically mediated and the traditional course work (correspondence) because many of the challenges will exist within all types of distance education.
1.2 Aims of the study
The aim of the study is to extend the field of education research by exploring the academic challenges faced in distance learning. The study will also seek to find out whether distance learning does indeed meet the expectations of the students and whether the quality is up to standard. The pros and cons of distance learning will also be analysed. This study is carried out in the US. The research study will involve the analysis of six sources of existing literature review on distance learning.
2.1. Closer look into distance education
Though not precisely defined, distance learning has been around for about 100 years and only came into full recognition in the mid of 19th century. From a historical perspective, distance learning has been carried out via audio enabled devices such as through the radios as well as via visually aided electronic gadgets, for instance TVs. It therefore emerges that distance learning is not a new form of pedagogy as many may have thought, but rather an improvement on the already existing knowledge acquisition and dissemination process that has embraced the use of high paced technologies such as computers and optics such as the internet to facilitate the needed communication and interaction between instructors and the learners.
Video taping of lectures and learning instruction has been in practice for over a half century, in many universities. Similarly, audio tapes have also been sent out to learners through mails as away to enhance the learning process. Thus with the changing technology, the meaning and particular definition of distance learning has changed turned to computers and via the internet. The current wave of live independent study and education process seems unique, but it remains to be a replica of the old distance learning era.
Distance learning is an educational field that focuses on andragogy, instructional systems and technology to deliver education to learners who are not physically in classroom.
Teachers and students do not meet in conventional classrooms, and they communicate asynchronously via electronic media. While the 21st century has witnessed a surge in the number of students demanding to have distant learning programs, the academic challenges associated with distant learning have placed enormous responsibility on colleges and universities.
In attempts to attract working students and students who are constrained by time and mobility, most colleges have developed distance education programs. Distance learning must always conform to similar expectations in quality comparable to normal settings of learning. While a student achievement is the central focus, those offering distance learning must ensure the students get quality education. In recent years, distant education has begun entering mainstream education. There are numerous distance education definitions that have been put forward by modern literature since distance learning encompasses different learning environments.
Presently, there are multiple definitions that different literatures have put forward to describe the absolute meaning of distant education.
Besser and Bonn (1996) define this concept as an arranged learning and teaching experience that engenders a broad utilization of tools and technologies to engage learners who are at distant locations. The author further adds that this mode of learning is constructed to facilitate interactive learning between the student and the content and upon successful completion; the learner is fully certified by the institution offering the education.
One of the fundamental distinctions between distance learning and traditional learning is that, while traditional learning takes place in a physical place between the instructor and the learners, distant education takes place in a free mode where the learner and the instructor are in different locations. A learner engaging in distant education can take his/her studies during a time of wish (The Economist, 2008). We therefore note from these diverse definitions and background that distant learning is only built on one platform, which involves complete interaction between the student and the learning content.
As stated in the introduction, this form of education is growing at rate the world cannot fathom. In this regard, the discussion of this section is centered on the challenges and contributions of modern distant education.
The benefits of using Distance learning in the current fast paced computer and optics related technologies have created reliable and efficient means to acquire and disseminate education. This has also brought numerous advantages in education and training sector. Though we may be enjoying these positive benefits of distance learning, there are some short falls that accompany this form of education in our economies. Some of the challenges are caused by the technology itself, while others are as a result of student background, methods of instruction, administrative and management limitations among others. Despite the presence of these impediments, majority of the consumers of distance learning continue to enjoy rich technologies, for instance audio tapes and ‘compressed’ video tapes, which continue grow in this modern era of computers.
2.2 Academic challenges of distant learning
Despite its success their numerous academic challenges associated with distance learning.
Students have always complained of the mode of evaluations as most of them have problems accessing soft ware and hardware. Research by Hentea, Jo Shea and Pennington (2003) on instructors and students of distance learning confirmed that faculty compensation and time was the greatest barrier on ensuring successful distance learning programs.
The absence of technical support and expertise and organisational changes also challenged the effectiveness of distance education. A research on performance and achievement between classroom and distance learning students confirmed that achievement was higher for distant learners while performance on projects was higher for classroom students. The abilities of the distant learner determined their performance and achievement.
2.2.1. Ineffective organization
Most distant learning programs are characterised by poorly organised class schedules, assignments given with insufficient time and resources to complete them. Some of the tasks are too easy or too hard for individual students. Poor and non existent training for instructors impedes their efforts as the tools for designing the context for distance education are different from those used in traditional classrooms. There are also technology problems such as network down and insufficient band width. Some changes by the school administration affect changes in the course content and subsequently the transmission of learning materials. Sometimes there are variances in different departments in the organisation of distant learning classes in terms of the assessment methods, technology used and grading techniques. This can result to student frustration. Instructors are also unaware of the different delivery methods suitable for different types of learners (Hentea, Jo Shea and Pennington 2003).
2.2.2 Inadequate student preparation
Since most distant students rely on online catalogues when choosing courses, poor selection criteria lead to the admission of students who do not have the skills to succeed in that class. Distant learners who lack time management skills may not also succeed (Hentea, Jo Shea and Pennington 2003).
Preparation is also an important factor to consider when assessing the quality of distant learning. This rests on both the student and the course instructors. Research has shown that for a learner to excel the learning phase, he/she should have an ample time to prepare (Stella and Gnanam, 2004). However, if the course instructor does not take time to prepare for the course, then a student may not get the desired level of excellence. A course instructor is supposed to design teaching materials by considering the needs of the learner. This will improve the effectiveness and quality of distance learning and will ease the time taken to prepare for exams by the students. It is always recommended that a good course should meet the needs of the bigger population, should be prepared and delivered in appropriate time; and should help contribute to the attainment of set learner’s objectives. This is the practice that administrators and course instructors should try to understand before creating a particular course. It is not professional when students fail to get course content in time. Some of the delivered contents may be haphazard making it difficult to grasp important points and this delay the preparation status of the learner.
For instance, online courses require a student to exercise high level of academic discipline and personal commitment. Those learners without the zeal and drive to work hard on their own may not attain the set academic success. It is important the students be constantly monitored to find out their level of preparedness. Preparation also requires the commitment of the course instructor and the institution offering distance learning education to avail learning materials in time. This will help the student to concentrate on academic excellence.
Since most distant learning education does not offer an environment for student-student and student-teacher interaction, there is always a need to ensure that the student can find platforms to enhance his/her knowledge acquisition and retention (Islam, 2011). This will help the student to comprehend the content that the program is offering. If for instance, the student is engaged in online education, then the university should try to provide avenues where students can collaborate and discuss those parts that seem too hard to understand after course delivery. This will be an added advantage and will enhance the level of preparedness among distance learners.
2.2.3 Lack of interaction
As most educators have realized, distant learners suffer from isolation. Most students have little means to communicate with others and those with means such as online chats to communicate do not receive the encouragement to do so. Thus, both students and the instructors suffer from lack of communication as the instructor is unable understand the needs of the student (Hentea, Jo Shea and Pennington 2003).
Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton (2001) developed a theoretical analysis, which stated that extensive and substantive formal education is enhanced when one of the three tiers of interactions a (student-student; student-content; teacher-student) is at the highest point. Anderson argues that as long as one of the three types remains high, the other two can be delivered at the lowest possible levels, and in many cases can be removed without affecting the teaching and learning experience. It is thus important to note that when a student engages in any one of the three categories of education as inferred by Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton (2001), then he/she will derive more utility in terms of education and knowledge acquisition.
Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton (2001) argues further that traditional education is faced with distraction that occur between the learner and the instructor, and that it offers low points in the tier list. According to Islam (2011) distance learning can bring about faster maximization of the student-content interaction due to limited distraction. This increases concentration, understanding and knowledge retention besides acquisition.
Interaction remains to be an important pillar knowledge acquisition and skills enhancement. For instance, in a classroom setting, there is student-teacher interaction. This mode of interaction often provides an avenue for further knowledge between the instructor and the learner. Students can as well be able to get practical knowledge from the interaction process. There are instances when the student fails to totally understand precise meaning of certain statement and terms used in the instruction process. In such cases, if learning is taking place in the classroom setting then the instructor can easily explain those words and terms which the learner is not well comprehended with and which may be of value in the course.
However in distant learning, there are some limitations which pose risk of knowledge acquisition and skills enhancement to the learner. Seeking further clarification on some hard issues in the model may not be easy and hence, the learner is left to in a vacuum. Lack of interaction also makes it difficult to assess the quality of distant learning program. A good program should be constantly evaluated and measured to get areas that require further improvement. It may not be easy to achieve such desired measure when one is enrolled in a distant learning program (Tor and Hanson, 2004).
Different authors have thus argued that is relative for a learning institution to understand the needs and demands of the learner before creating a distant program. If learning is conducted online, it should be accompanied by collaborative interactions which are supported by the technology being used to offer the education. There should be rooms for online chats and emails, where learners can share and interact freely with each. This interaction should also be availed to the instructor for further clarification should the learner seek to further explanation on areas that pose an understanding challenge. If the distant learning and education program is to be enabled through forums and group interactions then learners should be given procedures and directions on how best make use of the provided learning modules.
Another challenge that may face learners and instructors when enrolled in distant education is lack of enough training. Since this mode of learning is designed to enable the learner to work independently without being distracted, it is important that the learner be trained on how the process works so as to gain deep understanding of the subject under study. There should be both technical and professional support so that the learner can get practical and theoretical knowledge. Training should also be extended to course instructors. Some course instructors may not be proficient when it comes to offering distant education and this make contribute to lack of quality in the learning process. It is thus important the teacher be trained, and/or be provided with qualified technicians to offer support during the teaching process.
2.2.4. Inflexible Course and Learning Technologies
The course management systems do lack the flexibility and usually requires technologies that are not easily available to the distant learner. Some systems are designed to meet the needs of a particular situation and contain the domain knowledge and behavior embedded through programming. These systems cannot be easily extended. The distant learner could also be strained in his infrastructure (Hentea, Jo Shea and Pennington 2003).
Some courses in the distant education can only be offered at specific times and limitation may lead to some students failing to grasp the full contents of the course. Due to limited resources, a learner may not be able to access some of learning materials and may end up lagging behind in terms of knowledge acquisition and application. It is very essential to offer support services to learners. Distant learning should not be rigid and fixed as traditional classroom learning. It should fit well with the needs of the students. Research has shown that these forms of learning are often developed to target those learners who cannot get full time studies (Locke, Moore and Burton, 2002). It should be flexible enough to enable the student to plan when to attend classes.
Students have always raised concerns about the type of technologies used by their education providers. It is quite rigorous and expensive to use some technologies that are adopted by learning institutions. One has to be trained so as to become well versed with these technologies, and this implies that the learner will incur additional costs of training. On other instances, instructors may also be tempted to use unreliable technologies, an act that may significantly affect the effectiveness of distant learning
2.2.5. Cost Effectiveness
The potential cost effectiveness of using distant learning is uncertain. Most programs are efficient and not cost effective. The cost of online programs is determined by their implementation either as a primary teaching medium or as an enhancement. The personal, startup and maintenance costs are quite high (Valentine 2002).
The measure of the competitiveness of any institution is pegged on its ability to minimize on the cost. Most of the researchers who have conducted studies on this subject are yet to confirm the extent with which distant learning contributes to cost effectiveness. The one question that we need to ask ourselves is, “Is distance learning cost effective?”
A study by Hjeltnes and Branson (2004) established that it is not clearly verified whether distant learning and any other forms of e-learning offer cost effectiveness in nature. According to him, it is thus very difficult to contend that those universities engaging in distant educational programs are cost efficient. The research highlighted further that the term cost effectiveness is very broad and cannot just be summarized to mean financial implications. Though distant learning may be efficient in the process management, it may fail to become cost effective if it does not meet the set academic and learning objectives. The learning materials that are prepared and delivered to the learner may not meet the needs and objectives of the learner. In such scenarios, the learner may not acquire the right skills and knowledge if compared to traditionally taught courses and contributes further to the ineffectiveness of distance learning.
An effective learning program is one that helps both the learner and the offering institution to meet their core objective with the minimal possible cost of operation. For instance, in order for learning materials to reach the target responded, they must been converted into a form that can easily be accessed by the learner. During the conversion process, the university has to employ and train human resources that can help in the creation of learning materials, besides the teaching instructors. Therefore the cost of planning for the materials to be disseminated to the learners, the cost of conversion and the cost of training human resources to run the distant learning process cannot be under looked. This implies that it is relative for a learning institution to assess the viability of a distant learning program from the perspective of cost effectiveness rather than from the point of view of efficiency.
Islam (2011) argues that the process of implementing and monitoring distant learning program may pose a challenge to the provider. A program may be initiated either as an enhancer or a program to be purely taught to distant learners. If such program is formulated and implement as a pure program to be taught, it may carry a high cost of operation thereby making it quite expensive to sustain. If such program is developed as an enhancer to the administrative functions, then extra staff may be employed to manage it. These unidentified costs should thus be thoughtfully monitored so as to keep normal operational costs.
Carr (2001) as cited in Islam (2011) discussed an internal report from California State University on the savings earned when it develops a distance learning programs. It was established that for a university to achieve economies of scale, it must have a large population of learners enrolled in a distant education program. From the report it was also established that courses where learners met their instructors in a physical space, there was cost savings and high efficiency. It thus recommended that the university to conduct its program in a traditional setting rather than in a virtual platform. There is also the cost of converting some learning materials into package-able tools for use by the learner which seem daunting to the parties in the program. This will imply that the learner will be required to pay extra fees, and this increases the cost burden. A learning institution may not feel the pressure of such cost as it may transfer the cost weight to the learner in form of fees and certification. However, this may lead to low enrollment as many willing distant learners may not afford to cater for extra costs.
There are other vital factors that need to be evaluated and considered before commencing a distant education program. For instance, the costs of starting the program, the costs of maintaining the program as well as other costs that should be expensed when administrators are involved in the process are very important when assessing the cost effectiveness of distant learning process. In a traditional setting, the minimum number of persons required to facilitate the course effectiveness is one instructor. This is totally the reverse of distant learning. In distant learning process, atleast three persons will be required to make sure that the learner is getting the value of education. It is thus not effective to employ three people to conduct a distant learning education. Similarly, technicians involved in the process have to be highly trained to make sure that the process of delivering the teaching materials in of high quality. These additional costs of training technicians and instructors implies that even though distant learning may be efficient in the short term, it is not cost effective the long run, and if not well monitored can result into unplanned expenditure.
Tylor, Parker III and Tabauex (2001) argue that distant learning may offer some realizable cost effectiveness and savings to both the learners and the institutions offering the program.
In distance education (DE) there is an ample time both the course instructor and the learner. This is based on the fact that there is no physical conduct and time taken to travel is used in other productive activities. Similarly, both the student and the lecturer can have adequate time to conduct further research of the subject under study and by doing so; there is high quality in the whole process.
In conclusion we can argue that though distant learning may be an expensive venture, it offers broad array of benefits which cannot be under looked. By assessing the cost effectiveness and other savings that both the learner and the institution offering the program derive, we are sure of having a reliable model. However, this should be accompanied by heavy investment both in technical and administrative support, a factor which makes it less effective in the long run.
2.2.6 Attitudes towards distance education
Instructors’ attitudes towards teaching in a distant learning environment are a major road block to distant learning. Like the traditional setting, the instructor sets the tone for learning in a distant learning environment. Most instructors are poorly trained and they lack the motivation to be effective. Most instructors do not embrace distance teaching from a student’s point of view.
This lack of cooperation is what creates a gap between the instructor and learner. Since the process is not mutual, problems arise (Valentine 2002).
Some problems can be minimized or even avoided if the instructor is encouraged to develop a positive attitude towards distance learning. Instructors should be well equipped with right skills and proficient to cope with emerging technological trends which have significant effect on the field of learning. In every learning institution, lecturers play the lead role in stimulating learners’ attitudes towards education. However, if the course instructor is not adequately trained to handle the cognitive and psychological needs of the students, then distance learning cannot achieve the intended goals and objectives. It is essential that all teachers involved in delivering the course contents of distance learning be motivational instruments to students. This will create effectiveness in the whole learning environment.
An e-learning classroom can be quite ineffective if teachers are not well versed with the current technological tools and devices that can enhance online learning platform. A course instructor should diversify the process of delivering by engaging learners using all available electronic Medias. They should also be motivated to uphold the required confidence level.
Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton (2001) infer that a distant learning class can be effective if the lecturer is well prepared to engage learners in a positive attitude. If a course instructor hold negative attitude towards distant education, then learners will not be able to get the fundamentals of the course being taught. Some course instructors fail to empathize with the student needs when delivering their course content. It is advisable that student’s needs be considered when structuring the course materials. Lecturers should not rush to complete their lesions. They should create some extra time to help their students in those areas that seem difficult to understand.
An environment within which the learning process takes place can affect the attitude of both the learner and the course instructor. University administration should make sure that instructors are provided with serene environment that can stimulate the learning attitude among students. Learning materials should be availed to learners at the right time as that will create an urge for learning. Any motivation to engage in distant education is always pegged on the level of collaboration that exists between student, course instruction and the institution offering such program.
Stella and Gnanam (2004) argue that some students tend to give up when course instructors fail to offer substantive explanation due to negative attitudes. Good relationship between students and instructors can create positive attitude and this will stimulate the learning process. Some authors have contended that student-instructor forums can increase the level of engagement. This often boosts the depth of understanding between students. Furthermore, it will also enhance the process of knowledge acquisition and retention capacity among learners. It is thus the role of instructor to ensure that students get to discuss some important issues in a communal way, rather than having individual education.
Since distant learning often takes place in a vacuum, it imperative that lecturers be motivated to handle boredom that accompany this form of learning. Some students have always complained that some course instructors do not possess the right motivation and attitude to engage them. This is caused by lack of adequate interaction between student and instructor.
2.2.7. Instructors concerns
Most instructors are wary of placing their course materials online because once there, they are out of their control. Thus, in most cases, educators are forced to hire less skilled and cheaper instructors who may not deliver the courses well. Tenure and promotions do not also consider distant learning efforts (Valentine 2002).
One of the main challenges that limit the effectiveness of distant learning, particularly online education is that course instructors remain adamant to release all their course materials to learners. This is caused by the fear that some of their content may be re-designed by other teachers and used without offering any compensation. In a localized classroom, lecturers often have full rights over their course content and no one can ever misuse their knowledge. This often becomes a concern when such content is delivered as it can be accessed by any interested individual.
Some course instructors also remain skeptical about the success of distant education. According to AACSB (2007), instructors believe that most university administrators do not support distant education fully and they usually shift such burden to course instructors. There are also numerous complains about lack of commitment by universities to motivate course instructors. This becomes a quality problem that limits the effectiveness of distant education. It is therefore essential for universities to ensure that distant education be supported fully, and that their course instructors be adequately compensated in monetary and career promotion. They should also protect the teaching contents that are developed by their course instructors so as to ensure that cases of plagiarism are not prevalent.
We do not have standardized evaluation procedures when it comes to distance learning. Educators are also faced with the problem of course management as there is no standard way of organizing courses. There are also problems surrounding monitoring issues as it is not possible for everyone to report physically to the exam centre.
The process of evaluating the effectiveness of distance learning is still uncertain. Many authors have questioned the integrity of students engaged in such modules of education. Some students may be tempted to use unprofessional practices (Harrington and Reasons, 2005). This may lower quality of graduates in the job market.
It is also very difficult to measure how students are progressing in terms of course understanding. This is caused by lack of direct correspondence between the learners and the course instructors. There are different factors that should be considered when evaluating the effectiveness of distance learning. These factors could be emanating from technology that is used in the learning process, the levels of institutional commitment, models of instruction and approaches used in the implementation process. The interaction of these factors remains a complex issue. It is therefore difficult to establish a true measure that can be used to evaluate distance learning (Islam,2011)
For instance, any malfunction in one of the identified factors will cause a total paralysis of the whole distance learning program. There should be clear guidelines on how this form of education should be assessed. An evaluation framework should not just focus on the single needs of the learners, but rather it should take a holistic approach, in ensuring that all parties involved in distance education are evaluated.
2.2.9 Intellectual property and learning insecurities
According to Ritter Pollack (2007), there has been questions on whether it is right to use web materials without authorized permission from the owners. Many distance educators have been accused of using other people’s works without permission. Even with the Teach Act 2002 in place, the problem of intellectual property continues to haunt distant education.
Distant learners have learning in securities when compared with their traditional counterparts. A good example is the disruptions from family life, lack of support and cost issues. These all result in higher drop out rates in relation to traditional students. Distance learning also decreases a student’s confidence and even if students graduate most of them lack essential communication skills essential for people working in organizations.
Attempts to provide distance education across some national boundaries have been a challenge. A good example is from US to China. This is because some governments question the credibility of these degrees.
2.3 Quality of teaching in distance education programs
As Bower 2001 remarked, the issue of quality in distant learning appears through out existing literature on distance learning. Quality issues have been raised by both proponents and opponents of distance learning. The innovations that have been used for instruction purposes have faced the challenge of demonstrating whether they did not negatively affect the quality of instruction.
At the lowest level, the experience of a distant learner is expected to be rich intellectually and in quality as the experience of a student in traditional classrooms. Most critics perceive distant learning as a weaker alternative for the traditional classroom. In higher education, the quality of instruction is measured in numerous ways. Quality entails access to educational resources, student socialisation and interactions. While the students in distant learning could access the instructors in some form, the instructors rarely visited remote sites (Bower 2001).
According to AACBS International (2007), not all institutions of distance learning offered electronic links in their libraries. Close to 40% of distant learners did not get institutional support resources available to on campus students. As the world moves towards a learning paradigm, there has been emphasis on student-student interactions. While some methods have been used to encourage student interactions for distance learners, the quality of interaction is far too low as compared to that of on campus students.
In most of the cases, universities and colleges do not maintain same standards for distant education as for traditional classrooms.
Intelligent Assessment System in Web-Based distance learning education is not sufficient to determine that the student has accurately mastered the materials. Instructors rated the quality of distance learning as lower compared to that of traditional classroom settings. Many times instructors do not take advantage of technology when planning their lessons and this affects the quality of instruction. Surveys undertaken have established that most instructors second rate distance education as a necessary but deficient form of education (AACBS International 2007).
Different authors have defined the concept of quality in different forms and there exist no absolute meaning to the term. However, Harrington and Reasons (2005) infers that quality is the point of satisfaction or an achievement that can be used to measure against what other competitors are offering. From the perspective of education and learning, quality could be used to measure the level of utility that exist between traditional based form of learning and distance learning.
Locke, Moore and Burton (2002) opines that quality is related to how best the learning institution develops training and educational programs that fits to its mission statements as well how best the program contributes to the development of a country’s objectives. This is measured by evaluating the performance and reliability of graduates from the education program. It has been discovered that there are some limitations that impede the success and effective performance of distance learners. For instance, majority of learners enrolled in a distant learning education have had difficult time when trying to access support from their university administrations.
The findings of Islam (2011) also confirm that the quality of education offered through distant learning modules should be re-evaluated to establish its areas of weakness and strengths. This stems from fact that this form of training falls short of expected standards. In order to make sure that learners get full benefits of distant education, universities have to employ professionals that offer support to instructors. They should also evaluate the content of teaching methodologies and instruction model employed by course instructors.
Since distance learning is becoming a common practice in many universities, it should be periodically audited and evaluated to establish its level of competitiveness. Standardized measures should be directed at the effectiveness of teaching staff, course assessment and delivery of lectures. Learning materials and development capacities should be as well be audited. Locke, Moore and Burton (2002) note that quality enhancement in distance learning rests squarely on an institution offering the program.
It has also been established that the bigger part of the quality of teaching models lies on the perception of the course instructors and the university administration. If either of these is found to have a conflict of interest in this program, then its quality becomes substandard. A research by Harrington and Reasons (2005) showed that most lectures and teaching staff involved in distant learning programs held negative perception on the quality of such models of education. According to Locke, Moore and Burton (2002), teachers view distant education as being inferior to traditional form of education that is offered through enclosed classroom. It is as a result of negative attitude that most learners have raised concerns about the effectiveness and quality of teaching and learning materials that they derive from distant learning. Similarly if the administration is not committed to maintain the quality of distant education, then course instruction in this form of learning remains substandard and totally unreliable.
A number of administrators engaged in distant learning have always argued that the quality of distant learning tend to improve with the current technology, and that learners have a responsibility to make use of these technologies so as to attain their desired level of academic and professional success. This implies that learners in distance learning do not always get extensive course instruction as compared to their counterparts in the traditional form of learning. In most cases, many students have complained about limited support and poor content delivery.
Having believes that technology improves the quality of distant education, as held by most course instructors and administrators only contribute to poor quality of education. In realty, technology cannot design a reliable course and it will be unprofessional to assume that learners will use technology to get their instruction.
Locke et al., (2002) adds that students cannot learn from technology as it is only a means to deliver course instruction. According to Islam (2011), the effectiveness of technology in distant learning cannot be compared to the level of effectiveness that teachers and lectures offer when they deliver their course content to target learners. It can be argued that technology is not really a big challenge to the quality of distant education. Learners are only impeded by the mode of delivery and teaching designs employed during the learning process. This is what affects the quality of course instruction. Content instructors should design courses and learning materials that can make use of the presented technology.
The quality of distant education has been impeded by lack of appreciation from university administrators that such programs can be superior and reliable form of alternative learning. Most instructors and administrators believe that distance education is only a survival strategy and does not need to be of high quality. Poor attitude towards distance learning affects that the overall ‘learning environment’ of students and affects their individual performance and competitiveness in the job market. For there to be a balance, then course instructors and university administration should try to develop commitment towards distance learning. This will improve the quality and effectiveness of such education programs.
The quality of distance learning can be evaluated in terms of knowledge acquisition, comprehension and application to real life situations. Since students do not meet with instructors in a planned learning space, it is expected that they will uphold high levels of integrity. Being disciplined is not an easy task and in many cases, students may become reluctant to work hard (AACSB, 2007). This may in the long term affect the quality of education offered through distance learning modules. It therefore calls for a closer supervision and evaluation of the learner’s performance. It is also important to monitor the progress of the course instructor so as to ensure that all materials sent to learners are of high quality.
The quality of distance education should be analyzed to establish its level of positioning and competitiveness in the corporate world. Those learners engaged in classroom usually have significant advantages in practical knowledge and can thus be able to get faster absorption and entry into corporate world. This should be provided to distant learners. Instructors should ensure that the distant learning process is enriched by real life experience and examples that can help the learner to create an internal awareness of the work environment. Learners should also try to establish alternative avenues from which they can derive the much needed practical knowledge.
2.4 Does distant learning meet expectations?
Indeed, distance learning does meet student expectations. Researches carried out by Ritter Pollack (2007) established that distance learning can still be as effective as traditional learning in classrooms as long as the right instructional tasks and technologies are used. There would also be need to encourage student interactions and instructor to student feedbacks in a timely manner. The key to effective distant learning is in the design, development and the delivery of instruction. Effectiveness does not depend on geography or time. It is clearly evident from research literature that distance learning works and in most of the cases it meets the expectations of various stakeholders. The following points about the instructions delivered to distant learners are related to its efficiency
- Teachers undergo effective training in instructional strategies for distance learning
- Distant courses are carefully designed before the commencement of instruction
- There are adequate support systems in place
- Interactions between students and instructors is encouraged
In short, distant education can be just as effective as any other category of instruction. Some students have reported that distant learning experience was more successful than the traditional classroom (Ritter Pollack, 2007).
2.5 Distant educations and the provision of professional development for students
According to Ritter Pollack (2007), most educational establishments offering distance education will extent professional development for all its learners. These professional development services are extended through effective online support services and career guidance and counselling. These professional development services enhance the collaborative relationships among all the stakeholders in distance learning. A good example is the provision of Quality library services through specialised library information systems. Videoconferencing and teleconferencing are also other professional development services offered to learners. To benefit from these professional development services the distant learners must have internet with the right band width. Some of the web based collaborative solutions include the Elluminate and Webex.
2.6. Positive and negative impact of distance Education
According to Valentine (2002), advantages and disadvantages of distance learning have been highlighted by the educators and students.
2.6.1 The positive impact of distance learning
The weight of education and teaching process often lies in the financial implication that affect both the providers (institutions such as universities and colleges) and the consumers (students) institutions of higher learning believe that they can reduce on the financial expenditures and other related costs when they engage in distance learning education. For instance, Bers (1999) argues that a college can save 50% of its finances and time when it offers distance learning to students who cannot be physically present to attend localized classes. This may be due to lack of time and distance to be covered and thus majority would opt to take planned education. Since most economies are not performing well in terms of financial aggregation, most learning institutions are looking for means and ways of raising extra funds to meet their expenditures while at the same time reducing the billing needs.
Practically, when the number of students in a class increases, ‘overheads’ tend to remain stable for some time. However, Besser and Bonn (1996) note that with increased class size; there are other financial needs to be expensed. Distance learning has offered them an immediate solution to these financial challenges.
Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton (2001) argue that institutions of higher learning, specifically the universities, found in developing economies are choosing the path of distance learning under government sponsored programs. This has been caused by the swelling population of student enrollment that is impeded by limited space for expansion. Universities from places, for instance, Jakarta in Indonesia, Beijing in China, and South American states e.g. Argentina and Brazil have doubled the rate of education dissemination through distance learning to reach those learners who would not otherwise be reached at all cost.
Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton (2001)) further contend that universities in Asian countries, for example, China, Thailand and Singapore, have started to use distance learning to offer ‘mass education’ rather the traditional education which focuses on elites only. They further argue that traditional forms of educations offered by ancient universities can sustain the rising appetite and demand for education. Institutions of higher learning in China use radios and televisions to deliver their lectures to about 2.5 million learners, pursuing degree programs.
Curtain University which is based in Australia has embraced the use of ‘compressed’ video teleconferencing to target students located in the remote parts of the country. This form of teaching has enabled the university to disseminate its Business classes to international students who cannot travel to Australia for further education (Islam, 2011).
It is evident that from these practical cases and by extension from the meaning of distance learning, that such form of education can afford to meet the demand to offer education to a broad population with diverse background and cultures. The demand for distance education is very high at the moment, to an extent that it so far exceeds the supply for it. This is the reason why many universities are engaging in a planned education programs to students who cannot be physically present to attend lectures.
Majority of global and local Universities are facing challenges emerging from surging costs, the mode with which to improve the standards of the methods of instruction, quality of their education, varying and diverse customer needs and the rising pressure of competition (Islam, 2011).
Distance learning can meet any form of learning demand in areas with limited resources. Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton (2001) found out that most universities would be faced with the problem of limited resources which cannot meet the surging demand for education, challenges of technologies that can enhance such education with ease, and the problem of resource allocation and sharing.
Another major promise of distance learning education is that it can does not require space and is time flexible if compared to other traditional forms of education. Putting up large classes to house learners is not needed when a university engages in a distance learning platform. Similarly, learners do not necessarily have to be physical for them to get their education from the course instructors. In terms of teaching methodology used by the university and/or college, students and instructors do not need to meet physically (Singh, O’Donoghue and Worton, 2001). Learners can get their instructions at their own time. Thus from the above discussion we do note that distance learning offers array of benefits which would not otherwise be offered in the traditional based educational model.
Other positive impact of distance learning includes:
- Students are no longer limited by geography to attend classes in schools of their choice.
- Students are able to learn at their own pace and a time and location convenient to them
- there are numerous opportunities of interactivity offered by emails and online resource centers
- educators can personalize and customize learning to broaden the curricula
- there is time and flexibility of learning
- promotes life long learning
- Enhances career prospects allowing individuals to achieve professional and personal goals (Taylor 2006).
2.6.2. Negative impact of distance education
Even with all the positive effects, distance learning has had a negative impact on the students and the education system.
Compared to physical traditional education, distant learning poses different challenge and risks both to the learners, instructor as well as to the institutions offering the education. In order to ensure that all interpersonal and social skills are developed and nurtured in students, there should periodic communal relationships and discussions among learners. This practice is common in traditional forms of education. With respect to distant learning, students are not able to develop these fundamentals skills and experience. This is as a result of the asynchronous nature of the distant education. Lack of collaboration among students also limits their ability to build proficient skills and knowledge that can be used practically in life situations (Besser and Bonn, 1996).
When students are enrolled in online education, they cannot gain new knowledge besides what they derive from the course content. This may also limit their ability to comprehend the fundamentals of the course. In a physical setting, there are small groups that can be used by student to interact as they are taught. This enables them to acquire important educational lessons that can be used in later stages of their individual and career formation.
Authors (Besser and Bonn, 1996) have argued that there is always a gap that exists between the student and the course instructor when they are engage in distant learning. This distance causes students to lack motivation to take their studies seriously. Some students often require close monitoring and mentorship programs. However, if they are enrolled in a distant learning program, they may not be able to get sound mentoring programs that can boost their careers and academic excellence. Practical knowledge usually comes from physical personal interaction, and this kind of knowledge is not present in this kind of learning. Lack of cooperation in distant learning may also limit the ability of the learner to grow in terms of psychological and cognitive skills.
Researchers (Besser and Bonn, 1996) have criticized this form of learning since it reduces job availability. This may have a negative impact on the economic stability of a number of personnel who rely on physical teaching. Though very efficient, distant learning should be adopted with some considerable care, so as to minimize some of the related challenges.
The reliability of any learning program is an important factor that should be considered before one engages in distant learning. Some of the materials used in the academic process are of low quality. This affects the overall rating of graduates from distant learning programs. Some learners also may not be able to develop interrelationship skills that are needed in the job market. In a traditional education system, learners are able to interact frequently and often nurture their interpersonal skills besides enhancing their practical knowledge. It is therefore very difficult to attain the desired levels of success when one enrolls in distant learning
Other impacts of this mode of education include:
- The learning process does not allow students to work on their oral and personality skills.
- distant learning is not suitable for some courses
- it is asynchronous, and hence there is no immediate feedback like traditional classroom settings
- Isolation of learners due to the absence of physical interaction between instructors and students (Taylor 2006).
3.0 Definition of Key Terms and Concepts
3.1 Concept 1: Closer Look in to distance learning /education
Andragony: These are teaching strategies designed for distance learners.
Electronic media: Medium that needs electricity or digital encoding of information for educational purposes e.g. encoding
Distance education programs: these are educational programs designedto deliver education to students away from the traditional classroom setting.
3.2 Concept 2 : Academic Challenges
Instructors: These are teacher who facilitate distance education. They are involved in the design and delivery of online educational programs.
Technical support: these are individuals who offer assistance in the delivery of distance learning.
Online catalogues: a catalogue that displays the educational courses available for distance learning on a computer screen.
Intellectual property: these comprise of the intangible rights that protect copyright works and patented inventions
3.3 Concept 3: Quality of teaching
Educational resources: These are the equipment and materials available for education.
3.4 Concept 4: Expectations
Expectations: what students expect to achieve from distance education
3.5 Concept 5: Professional development
Professional development: the skills and knowledge extended to students for career advancement in distance learning.
4.0. Research methods: Methods Summary of Research Results from Different Sources
The research study reviewed six academic articles. Thus, it made use of secondary research to collect information.
To minimise the challenges of distance learning, educators have shifted to new models of learning such as the hybrid distance learning.
This model is based on a distributed collaborative model and it encourages interactions between students, faculty and research teams. Educators must understand student needs and course requirements to set up effective distant learning programs. Successful distance education programs depend on consistent and integrated efforts of all stakeholders namely; students, faculty, administrators and support staff. All instructors must adapt their teaching methods to the distant learning format.
Even with all the challenges facing distance learning, the future seems brilliant. There is need to appreciate the fact that increasing the numbers of students enrolling for distance education underscores the need for an inclusive and considerate evolution of distance learning, if it is to become the educational model in the future. Nevertheless, the challenge facing educators is the design of cost effective educationally effective systems to meet educational needs in the 21st century.
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