Distance Teaching and Learning Platforms

Distance Teaching and Learning Platforms

Linda D. Grooms (Regent University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7365-4.ch024


The knowledge explosion, the increased complexity of human life, and the ubiquitous, 24/7 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 historically traveling from village to village verbally disseminating knowledge was the only process of training those at a distance, today's learners eagerly embrace the rapidly expanding web-based delivery systems of the 21st century, which offer a plethora of educational alternatives. So, with this rapidly changing distance educational landscape, one must question, what exactly is distance teaching and learning, how has it evolved, and what is its future?
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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 geographical proximity and/or time (Holmberg, 1974, 1977, 1981; Kaye, 1981, 1982, 1988; Keegan, 1980; McIsaac & Gunawardena, 1996; Moore, 1973, 1980, 1983, 1989a, 1989b, 1990; Ohler, 1991; Sewart, 1981; Wedemeyer, 1971). In his 1986 theory of transactional distance, 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 establishing the foundational role interaction plays 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 the convergence or fusion of technologies enable individuals 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, online, or e-learning revolutionizes the traditional environment; 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, research shows these three types of interaction to be the hub of the ongoing traditional versus 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.

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