A discussion of distance learning usually entails a wide range of instructional and learning activities, instructional delivery modalities, and learner interactions characterized by some distance between the teacher and the learner, and mediated by a variety of technological tools (Schlosser & Simonson, 2002; Tiene & Ingram, 2001). The tools available for the delivery and access to learning materials contribute in large measure to the kind of experiences that learners have with distance learning. Distance-learning delivery and access tools have radically evolved in recent years with the advent of new and mostly Web-based technologies. Podcasting, virtual communities, and social networking tools, such as Facebook and MySpace, all have implications for how current and future learners access and even cocreate contents of instruction locally and at a distance (Appel, 2007).
Instruction offered to the distance learner today falls into a range that can be categorized along a quasi-continuum of modalities. On one end of the continuum is the traditional face-to-face instruction delivered by a live instructor to students in other locations through distance media such as the interactive television and live Web cast. On the other end of the continuum is the completely automated instruction in which the machines take the place of a live instructor to provide learners with dynamic interaction with course content, as in the case of online simulations. In between these two modalities are hybrids or blended models in which face-to-face instruction is combined with the use of various online tools. These include the information assistance model in which the Web is used as a placeholder for course syllabi and other class information, Web-assisted or Web-enhanced instruction (Dabbagh, 2000) in which some of the course activities are carried out with the aid of the online tools such as e-mail, discussion board, listserv, and fully online instruction in which students’ interaction with each other, course materials, and the instructor is totally through online means.
As we move from left to right of this continuum, there are trade-offs in educational outcomes of delivering instruction as described in this continuum. For an insight into outcomes that might be lost or gained, the authors propose that educators revisit some various taxonomies of educational outcomes that have been in use in education and training for decades. Although some researchers have taken issue with the idea of a hierarchy in the taxonomies of educational outcomes, the present authors propose that thinking in terms of a hierarchical structure to learning, where there can be “higher order” and “lower order” outcomes, might be a useful way to begin thinking about what might be gained or lost as we change the structure of course delivery.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Distributed Delivery: A system whereby information or course content is delivered through several media, accessible to anyone regardless of their locations and platforms.
Hierarchy of Learning: The concept that learning can be sequentially ordered in a stair-step fashion along a continuum from lower-order to higher-order. Bloom’s taxonomy is one of many that have been proposed.
Psychomotor Learning Outcomes: Domain of human learning dealing with physical movement, coordination, and uses of the motor skills in which their development requires practice and is measured in speed, accuracy, distance, procedures, or techniques.
Hybrid Learning Environment: A mix of traditional and Web-based instructional delivery method in which the class meets for lectures, hands-on projects, and examination, while course management platform is used to deliver support materials, instructor’s notes, and conduct discussions. A term sometimes used synonymously with blended model.
Blended Model: A face-to-face instructor-delivered instruction in a brick-and-mortar location supplemented by a variety of online resources.
Cognitive Learning Outcomes: Learning that is associated with knowledge of facts or processes.
Affective Learning Outcomes: Learning that is associated with feelings rather than knowledge or skills, such as learning to accept an idea or concept, or learning to appreciate a point of view.
Automated Delivery: A system whereby information or course content is delivered in a preprogrammed manner without the need for any action on the part of the live teacher. This could include non-interactive methods, such as a course delivered via cable TV, but could also include highly interactive methods, such as automatic tutoring via a computer.
Automatic Tutoring: Programmed-machine methods that interact with the learner in a way that mimics a human teacher by adjusting new content on the basis of the learner’s response to content presented by the machine.
Metacognitive Learning Skills: Active, self-regulated learning skills involving knowing how to monitor one’s learning, knowing how to learn, and how to solve ill-defined problems.