Instructional Support for Distance Education

Instructional Support for Distance Education

Bernhard Ertl (Universität der Bundeswehr München, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch326
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During the late ‘90s, distance education and e-learning were believed to be able to solve almost every problem associated with the further qualification of employees in organizations. Distance education was credited with saving costs for companies, by reducing time and expenses for traveling and with flexible time management. Consequently, many companies started programs for distance education. However, after this initial euphoria, several organizations experienced problems with their programs (e.g., Haben, 2002). The costs for distance education courses exploded, employees refused the new style of learning, and the general question arose as to the effectiveness of distance education (see, e.g., Bernard et al., 2004). Looking at the range of distance education courses at this time, one could see that they used a broad variety of technologies to deliver learning contents to the learners, for example, videos, Web pages, dedicate software for learning, Weblogs, wikis, collaboration tools, videoconferencing, chat, and discussion boards. However, in contrast to the variety of technologies available, the instructional design of these courses was elementary and traditional (see Ertl, Winkler, & Mandl, 2007). Many courses offered recorded classroom lectures and streamed them to participants, or they just presented texts or slides in the style of a book. Such courses experienced a lack in acceptance and thus several efforts of distance education failed because the instructional design of these courses was not able to take advantage of the innovative technologies.
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To take advantage of the emerging technologies, a new philosophy of learning and teaching is necessary. Moderate constructivist approaches focus on several activities of learners that are necessary for the successful implementation of distance education courses. They build on learners’ active knowledge construction and postulate that learning requires learners’ active participation. This is in contrast to traditional approaches, which set learners in a receptive role. According to constructivist approaches, learning is mediated by learners’ individual prior knowledge, their motivation, and other individual learning prerequisites. Reinmann-Rothmeier and Mandl (2001) describe several key-elements for construction of knowledge according to this philosophy (see also Ertl, Winkler, & Mandl, 2007). They state that a learning process is:

  • Active, because only active involvement enables learning.

  • Self-directed and learners have to take active control and responsibility for their learning activities.

  • Constructivist, which means that learners have to embed new knowledge in their existing knowledge structures.

  • Social and knowledge acquisition requires a social context.

  • Situated because knowledge acquisition happens in a specific context and is linked to this context.

  • Emotional; the emotional component is particularly important for the motivation of the learners.

Besides these constructivist aspects, learning environments require a certain amount of instruction (Ertl et al., 2007; Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006; Reinmann-Rothmeier & Mandl, 2001). Consequently, learning environments need to find a balance between construction and instruction. This balance can be realized by the design of problem-oriented learning environments (see Mandl, Gräsel, & Fischer, 1998) and case-based learning scenarios (Kolodner et al., 2003). Such learning environments can benefit from new technologies; they can provide tools for supporting the active construction of knowledge (Roschelle & Teasley, 1995), provide an authentic situational context by the display of video cases (CTGV, 1997), enable the social context for spatially-divided learners (Mandl, Ertl, & Kopp, 2006), and motivate learners by the provision of gimmicks and animations (Mayer, Hegarty, & Mayer, 2005). However, none of these benefits are caused by the technology itself—they are introduced by the instructional design of the learning environment including the use of the new technologies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Collaboration: Tightly working together with a strong commitment of collaboration partners.

Learning Environment: Learners’ context in distance education courses that is comprised of instructional, social, and technical aspects.

Instructional Design: The didactical rationale for a learning scenario which includes instructional elements as well as the application of tools.

Content Scheme: Tabular representation of domain-specific structure to facilitate learners.

Collaborative Knowledge Construction: Learners’ joint activities to acquire or create new knowledge.

Knowledge Construction: Learners’ work with their knowledge in a way that they link their new knowledge to their existing knowledge base in stead of memorizing facts.

Powerful Learning Environment: A learning environment which includes instructional elements that evoke learners’ active construction of knowledge.

Script: Specification of learning processes which contains procedural aspects, the assignment of roles, and the evocation of beneficial cognitive activities.

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