Best Practices for Designing Distance Education and the U-M-T Approach

Best Practices for Designing Distance Education and the U-M-T Approach

Michael Simonson (Nova Southeastern University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch025
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Abstract

Distance education is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (Schlosser & Simonson, 2006) as: Institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources and instructors. Distance education has two major components, distance teaching and distance learning. Distance teaching is the efforts of the educational institution to design, develop and deliver instructional experiences to the distant student so that learning may occur. Education and distance education is comprised of teaching and learning. This article focuses on distance teaching.
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Introduction

Distance education is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (Schlosser & Simonson, 2006) as:

Institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources and instructors.

Distance education has two major components, distance teaching and distance learning. Distance teaching is the efforts of the educational institution to design, develop and deliver instructional experiences to the distant student so that learning may occur. Education and distance education is comprised of teaching and learning. This article focuses on distance teaching.

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Background: Quality Instruction For Distance Education

Distance education has been practiced for more than 150 years, passing through three phases: first, correspondence study, with its use of print-based instructional and communication media; second, the rise of the distance teaching universities and the use of analog mass media; and third, the widespread integration of distance education elements into most forms of education, and characterized by the use of digital instructional and communication technologies. Peters (2002) has suggested that “the swift, unforeseen, unexpected and unbelievable achievements of information and communication technologies” will require “the design of new formats of learning and teaching and [will cause] powerful and far-reaching structural changes of the learning-teaching process” (p. 20). Peters’ views are well-accepted, but there is also consensus that the most fruitful way of identifying elements of quality instruction may be to re-examine “first principles” of distance education and mediated instruction.

Perhaps the first of the “first principles” is the recognition that distance education is a system, and that the creation of successful courses—and the program of which they are a part—requires a “systems” approach. Hirumi (2000) identified a number of systems approaches but noted a concept common to all: that “a system is a set of interrelated components that work together to achieve a common purpose” (p. 90). He described a system that involved the efforts of faculty, staff, administrators, and students, and consisted of eight key components: curriculum, instruction, management and logistics, academic services, strategic alignment, professional development, research and development, and program evaluation.

Bates (in Foley, 2003) proposed 12 “golden rules” for the use of technology in education. These “rules” offer guidance in the broader areas of designing and developing distance education:

  • 1.

    Good teaching matters. Quality design of learning activities is important for all delivery methods.

  • 2.

    Each medium has its own aesthetic. Therefore professional design is important.

  • 3.

    Education technologies are flexible. They have their own unique characteristics but successful teaching can be achieved with any technology.

  • 4.

    There is no “super-technology.” Each has its strengths and weaknesses; therefore they need to be combined (an integrated mix).

  • 5.

    Make all four media available to teachers and learners. Print, audio, television, and computers.

  • 6.

    Balance variety with economy. Using many technologies makes design more complex and expensive; therefore limit the range of technologies in a given circumstance.

  • 7.

    Interaction is essential.

  • 8.

    Student numbers are critical. The choice of a medium will depend greatly on the number of learners reached over the life of a course.

  • 9.

    New technologies are not necessarily better than old ones.

  • 10.

    Teachers need training to use technology effectively.

  • 11.

    Teamwork is essential. No one person has all the skills to develop and deliver a distance-learning course, therefore, subject matter experts, instructional designers, and media specialists are essential on every team.

  • 12.

    Technology is not the issue. How and what we want the learners to learn is the issue and technology is a tool. (p. 833)

Key Terms in this Chapter

To pic Learning Outcome: A learning outcome is observable and measurable. Learning outcomes are a consequence of teaching and learning—of instruction and study. Often, learning outcomes are written with three components: conditions under which learning is facilitated (instruction), observable and measurable actions or products, and a minimum standard of expectations.

To pic/Learning Object: A topic is an important supporting idea that explains, clarifies, or supports a module. A topic would be a lesson or an assignment. Topics in a module on Central Tendency might be Median, Mode, and Mean. The Topic/Learning Object is often designed to require one hour of work working with the lesson which is usually make up of an objective, multimedia content, and a summary. Students are also expected to study in addition to working with interactive “online instruction.” Study means reading papers and texts, watching videos, or reviewing materials.

Unit or Course Unit: A unit is a significant body of knowledge that represents a major subdivision of a course’s content. Often, one unit of a course would represent four or five weeks of instruction, and would be equivalent to a semester credit. For example, a unit in an educational statistics course might be Descriptive Statistics.

Distance Education: Institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources and instructors.

Module: A module is a major subdivision of a unit. A module is a distinct and discreet component of a unit. Generally, a unit such as Descriptive Statistics might be divided into 3–5 major components, such as Statistical Assumptions, Measures of Central Tendency, Measures of Variation, and the Normal Curve. Modules generally are the basis for several class sessions and are covered in about a week of instruction and study.

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