The effectiveness of distance learning has been an important topic of debate and evaluation between educators. This issue has been a central point of discussion between educators especially as distance learning gained popularity in the last decade. It is important to evaluate the effectiveness and suitability of distant learning to justify the allocation of resources of educational institutions to this alternative method of delivery. Proper evaluation of the effectiveness of distance learning requires us to have an understanding of the definitions of distance learning and the different methods that are used in distance learning.
William (1991) defines distance education as “the process of providing instruction when students and instructors are separated by physical distance and technology”. Getchell (2006) elucidates distance learning as the process of learning where “the instructor and the students are in physically separate locations” and states that it can be “either synchronous or asynchronous” and may require other technical gadgets such as “correspondence, video or satellite broadcasts” in the process of “e-Learning”. Distance learning has also been defined as the modern “desired outcome of distance education” as opposed to the traditional ‘face to face learning’ where the teacher and the student are physically present at the same place at the same time (Willis, 1991).
Distance learning takes place through several delivery mediums in order to deliver the information to the students. The different methods of delivering information are through the medium of voice, for instance, a radio, Video conferencing, Data transfer, and print medium to transfer information (William, 1991). There are several key players or groups which are involved in determining the effectiveness of distance learning programs and these include the students, faculty members, facilitators, support staff, and the administration (William, 1991).
Distance learning can be further categorized into two learning systems based on the delivery system involved in the process of data transfer (Holden & Westfall, 2005).
- Synchronous Learning System: This is a real-time, two-way communication system of educational material, where the parties, learner, and the teachers are actively involved in the process of learning.
- Asynchronous Learning System: This is a delayed, time delivery system of education where there is no active and instant communication between the learner and the teachers (Lucent Technologies, 1999; Holden & Westfall, 2005).
Nasseh (1997) of Ball State University asserts that it is important not to confuse the issues of effectiveness with the method of delivery of the educational information and the achievements that the distant learning students acquire from these courses. He additionally states that educators need to examine the required skill sets they need in order to deliver effective instructions through distance learning.
Perraton (1997) asserts that comprehensive planning of the distance learning programs enhances their effectiveness and increases the value of the learning experience. It is important to understand how to approach and prepare the topics a teacher covers through distance learning so as to increase the benefits of instructions to the students who are the recipients of the efforts. Furthermore, evaluating and understanding the student profiles, their needs, study habits, and how to keep them connected with the distance learning programs provides the foundation for a more effective and successful outcome (Perraton, 1997). Continued interaction and engagement between instructor-student and student-student in the distance learning culture is fundamental to effective distance learning. Timely interaction and feedback between the students and the instructors on the course materials, assignments, and projects should provide the instructor’s insights on the ability of their students and may give the opportunity to the instructors to adjust their methods of teaching that will help make the process more effective (Perraton, 1997).
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Holden J. & Westfall P., (2005). An Instruction Media Selection Guide for Distance Learning. 2008, from An official publication of the United States Distance Learning Association Web.
Lucent Technologies (1999). Relative Effectiveness of Distance Learning Systems. 2008. Web.
Nasseh, Bizhan (1997). A Brief History of Distance Education. 2008 from Adult Education in the News Web.
Perraton, Hilary (1997). Learning for Development. 2008, from The cost-effectiveness of distance education for primary teacher training Web.
Willis, Barry (1991).Distance Education. 2008, from Distance Education at A Glance Web.