Distance Learning Overview

Distance Learning Overview

Linda D. Grooms (Regent University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch186
OnDemand PDF Download:
$30.00
List Price: $37.50

Abstract

The knowledge explosion, the increased complexity of human life, and the ubiquitous nature of technology coupled with the globalization of the marketplace herald the need to embrace the most effective methods and formats of teaching and learning. Currently providing powerful educational opportunities, the science and technology of distance learning continues to multiply at unprecedented rates. Where just a short time ago traveling from village to village verbally disseminating knowledge was the only process of training those at a distance, today many eagerly embrace the rapidly expanding synchronous and asynchronous delivery systems of the 21st century. So what exactly is distance learning? In very simplistic terms, distance learning is just that: learning that occurs at a distance (Rumble & Keegan, 1982; Shale, 1990; Shale & Garrison, 1990) or that which is characterized by a separation in proximity and/or time (Holmberg, 1974, 1977, 1981; Kaye, 1981, 1982, 1988; D. J. Keegan, 1980; McIsaac & Gunawardena, 1996; M. Moore, 1983; M. G. Moore, 1973, 1980, 1989a, 1989b, 1990; Ohler, 1991; Sewart, 1981; Wedemeyer, 1971). In his 1986 theory of transactional distance, Michael Moore (Moore & Kearsley, 1996) defined distance not only in terms of place and time, but also in terms of structure and dialogue between the learner and the instructor. In this theory, distance becomes more pedagogical than geographical. As structure increases, so does distance. As dialogue increases, distance declines, thus accentuating the need for interaction in the distance learning environment. Saba (1998) furthered this concept, concluding, the dynamic and systemic study of distance education has made “distance” irrelevant, and has made mediated communication and construction of knowledge the relevant issue…. So the proper question is not whether distance education is comparable to a hypothetical “traditional,” or face-to-face instruction, but if there is enough interaction between the learner and the instructor for the learner to find meaning and develop new knowledge. (p. 5) To facilitate greater interaction in the geographically and/or organizationally dispersed distance environment, today, individuals most often use some form of technology to overcome the barrier of separation, affording institutional and learner opportunity to transcend intra- and inter-organizational boundaries, time, and even culture. By definition, the paradigm of distance learning revolutionizes the traditional environment (Martz & Reddy, 2005); however, even with this change, learning, which involves some manner of interaction with content, instructor, and/or peers, remains at the core of the educational process. Although imperative in both environments, these three types of interaction seem to be at the hub of the ongoing traditional-vs.-distance argument. Traditionalists often fear that with anything other than face-to-face instruction, interaction somehow will decrease, thus making learning less effective, when in reality, numerous studies have revealed no significant difference in the learning outcomes between traditional and distance courses (Russell, 1999). In fact, distance courses have been found to “match conventional on-campus, face-to-face courses in both rigor and quality of outcomes” (Pittman, 1997, p. 42). Despite these findings, critics still abound.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

The knowledge explosion, the increased complexity of human life, and the ubiquitous nature of technology coupled with the globalization of the marketplace herald the need to embrace the most effective methods and formats of teaching and learning. Currently providing powerful educational opportunities, the science and technology of distance learning continues to multiply at unprecedented rates. Where just a short time ago traveling from village to village verbally disseminating knowledge was the only process of training those at a distance, today many eagerly embrace the rapidly expanding synchronous and asynchronous delivery systems of the 21st century. So what exactly is distance learning?

In very simplistic terms, distance learning is just that: learning that occurs at a distance (Rumble & Keegan, 1982; Shale, 1990; Shale & Garrison, 1990) or that which is characterized by a separation in proximity and/or time (Holmberg, 1974, 1977, 1981; Kaye, 1981, 1982, 1988; D. J. Keegan, 1980; McIsaac & Gunawardena, 1996; M. Moore, 1983; M. G. Moore, 1973, 1980, 1989a, 1989b, 1990; Ohler, 1991; Sewart, 1981; Wedemeyer, 1971). In his 1986 theory of transactional distance, Michael Moore (Moore & Kearsley, 1996) defined distance not only in terms of place and time, but also in terms of structure and dialogue between the learner and the instructor. In this theory, distance becomes more pedagogical than geographical. As structure increases, so does distance. As dialogue increases, distance declines, thus accentuating the need for interaction in the distance learning environment. Saba (1998) furthered this concept, concluding,

the dynamic and systemic study of distance education has made “distance” irrelevant, and has made mediated communication and construction of knowledge the relevant issue….So the proper question is not whether distance education is comparable to a hypothetical “traditional,” or face-to-face instruction, but if there is enough interaction between the learner and the instructor for the learner to find meaning and develop new knowledge. (p. 5)

To facilitate greater interaction in the geographically and/or organizationally dispersed distance environment, today, individuals most often use some form of technology to overcome the barrier of separation, affording institutional and learner opportunity to transcend intra- and inter-organizational boundaries, time, and even culture. By definition, the paradigm of distance learning revolutionizes the traditional environment (Martz & Reddy, 2005); however, even with this change, learning, which involves some manner of interaction with content, instructor, and/or peers, remains at the core of the educational process.

Although imperative in both environments, these three types of interaction seem to be at the hub of the ongoing traditional-vs.-distance argument. Traditionalists often fear that with anything other than face-to-face instruction, interaction somehow will decrease, thus making learning less effective, when in reality, numerous studies have revealed no significant difference in the learning outcomes between traditional and distance courses (Russell, 1999). In fact, distance courses have been found to “match conventional on-campus, face-to-face courses in both rigor and quality of outcomes” (Pittman, 1997, p. 42). Despite these findings, critics still abound.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Time-Place Independent: Learning that does not rely on proximity or time.

Traditional Study: Face-to-face learning.

Equivalency: Distance learning that possesses equality with learning experienced in the face-to-face venue.

One-to-One: The tutorial method, one instructor to one learner.

Many-to-Many: A collaborative process with students learning from each other with or without an instructor.

Time-Place Dependent: Education that transpires in the same location at the same time.

Correspondence Learning: A form of distance learning using dispatched or one-way interaction.

One-to-Many: The lecture method, one instructor to many learners.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset