- Learning Styles and Distance Education
- Cognitive Presence in Online Learning
- Social Presence in Distance Education
- Distance Learning through Technology
- Asynchronous and Synchronous Virtual Learning
- Teaching Practices in Distance Learning
- Questioning as an Instructional Strategy
- Factors Influencing Social Presence in Distance Education
Learning Styles and Distance Education
Virtual learning has become a modern trend that connects teachers and learners through an online instructional learning process supported by sophisticated technologies, including computers and information technology (Kim, Kwon, & Cho, 2011). Recent trends indicate that learners and instructors have regarded distance-learning classrooms as efficient methods of learning, where technology supports active learning.
Nonetheless, efficiency in online or distance learning has several factors that influence efficiency, which include the style of learning among online learners. Battalio (2009) conducted a research involving 120 undergraduate students of a technical communication course to examine the influence of learning style and multiple formats in distance learning. The study involved three types of distance learners, namely, the reflective learners, active learners and sequential learners. Still on accessing efficiency in distance learning, Battalio (2009) measured the performance of students in collaborative learning style and self-directed versions in the studied course.
From the analysis of the research report, the results revealed that there is a positive correlation between the learning styles of students and student performance and learning preferences (Battalio, 2009). The findings showed that performance of active learners is lower than that of active learners in both in the post-test and final exams under different learning conditions.
Moreover, according to Battalio (2009), reflective learners preferred independent learning and demonstrated confidence than the active learners could exhibit. For the active learners, the results indicated that comparison about the significant positive interactions among members of this group of learners was possible only by comparing their performance with active members alone engaged in a different learning session (Battalio, 2009). This meant that reflective learners were relatively competent and comfortable in distance education.
Amongst active learners themselves, students engaged in the collaborative learning produced superior semester grades compared to active learners studying in the independent or self-directed learning sessions (Battalio, 2009). It connotes that for learners to experience high efficiency in distance learning, reflective and collaborative learning techniques are more efficient than active and self-directed learning styles. This article is significant for the proposed research as it investigates the efficiency in online or distance education based on independent-learner factors that significantly influence the effectiveness of online learning (Battalio, 2009). Hence, environmental and technological facilities are not only the only factors that influence distance classrooms as learning styles contribute significantly.
Cognitive Presence in Online Learning
For quite some time, researchers have argued that online learners underperform academically and build low cognitive reasoning (Kim, 2011). Nonetheless, the discussion strategies or techniques that learners use in their online learning practices greatly determine the effectiveness of distance education. In a recent investigation, Darabi, Arrastia, Nelson, Cornille and Liang (2010), sought to investigate the association between the strategies that learners use in online learning and the learning outcomes.
Using the mixed methodology study technique, the study examined the impact of four different scenario-based online approaches, namely the debate, structured strategy, scaffolded strategy, and role-play in distance learning outcomes, and especially on their cognitive presence (Darabi et al., 2010). The study selected 73 undergraduates, who were taking online courses, and examined their stress and resilience in relation to cognitive presence.
In the analysis of discussions among learners, the researchers utilized unique authentic scenarios with a view of relating learning styles of learners in different circumstances. These four scenario-based approaches gave different results during the assessment (Darabi et al., 2010). Exploration, integration, triggering events, and resolution are different circumstances of cognitive presence that affect learning processes among students (Darabi et al., 2010).
Assessors of discussions used questions and prompts when analysing cognitive presence in terms of discussions. In structured discussion technique, when highly linked with prompting events normally produces no discussions in the resolution phase (Darabi et al., 2010). From the study, it is evident that the scaffolded strategy correlated positively with the circumstance of resolution in the aspect of cognitive presence. Moreover, positive correlation existed between the debate and role-play approaches.
From the analysis, Darabi et al. (2010, p. 216) “concluded that discussion strategies requiring learners to take a perspective in an authentic scenario facilitate cognitive presence, and thus critical thinking and higher levels of learning.” This typically means that there is a cognitive presence in online learning depending on learning strategies that online students use (Darabi et al., 2010).
Therefore, when questioning about efficiency in online learning, people should consider discussion strategies as important determinants in the quality of learning outcomes achieved. This study is highly imperative to the intended research as it analyses the efficiency of distance learning in terms of independent student-factors that determine effectiveness in distance learning (Darabi et al., 2010). The implication is that the strategies could barely prove efficient to control personal behaviours such as critical thinking.
Social Presence in Distance Education
Theoretically, one of the issues that makes online learning undergo condemnation is its inability to provide efficient room for social interaction that learners frequently require for development and construction of knowledge (Darabi et al., 2010). This makes face-to-face learning environment more efficient than virtual learning to a certain extent.
To answer the quandary of lack of social presence in distance learning, Kim (2011) conducted a study to investigate the construct of social presence and sought to develop an instrument to measure social interaction and social presence in distance learning in the context of higher education. The study evaluated the major constituents of social presence in distance-learning (Kim, 2011). In testing social presence, researchers used questionnaires of at least 37 questions and a pilot test of 63 students in a distance-learning program in a higher education institution.
The study examined four factor constructs of social presence that included “mutual attention and support, affective connectedness, a sense of community, and open communication” (Kim, 2011, p. 769). Mutual attention and support depicted the degree in which learners were supportive and attentive about each other in online learning under consideration of their opinions and sentiments. Participants indicated online learning contains high mutual attention and support between learners (Kim, 2011).
Affective connectedness referred to the feeling of emotional and social connectedness among the participants in a distance-learning program. For the factor construct of effective connectedness, a considerable number of online learners indicated that they at least had empathy and felt socially considerate to each other (Kim, 2011). In this case, the study reveals a slight positive correlation between social connection and learning in distance education.
A sense of community referred to the extent to which participants felt the cohesiveness as a learning community and shared the sense of membership in the online learning. Participants felt communally connected to online learning due to high cooperation and collective effort, which offer significant satisfaction (Kim, 2011). Open communication referred to the extent of mutual understanding and interactivity.
Open communication as a basis of knowledge sharing among learners was very high. The main intention of the article is the analysis of social presence, which has become questionable concerning the efficiency of online learning (Kim, 2011). The results have significant contribution to the proposed study as they unveil components of social presence in online education. A major implication is that the study fails to demonstrate instances when these constructs are highly effective.
Distance Learning through Technology
Perhaps all that makes distance learning the most preferred learning technique is its efficiency in terms of the technologies they use (Casey, 2008). However, the quality of learning and instructional delivery that accompanies the practice of distance learning has increasingly become questionable. Casey (2008) conducted an inquiry into the historical progress of online learning through technology to examine major efficiency quandaries associated with this technologically knowledge sharing practice.
The study examined a series of literature concerning the development phases that accompanied distance education, the major perceptions from the first international adopters, and major technological advances made (Casey, 2008). Reviewing several cases across the world where distance learning had historically received early acceptance, the researcher sought to investigate accreditation received by the distance-learning program and quality issues of learning in a virtual environment.
Besides its historical development, the main aspect that received considerable attention from the researcher was the aspect of accreditation and learning quality in distance education (Case, 2008). From a formal definition, the researcher identifies two major essentials of distance learning that facilitated effective learning. According to Case (2008, p. 45), “distance learning must involve two-way communication between (among) teacher and students for the purpose of facilitating and supporting the educational process.”
Another aspect is that distance learning must use technological devices responsible for mediating the required two-way communication protocol (Case, 2008). This means that whichever the procedure, whether modern or conventional, distance learning is ineffective or inefficient, if technology does not mediate the necessary communication between an instructor and a learner (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). The United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Germany are the earliest adopters of distance learning strategies in the world.
A situation review of these first initiators and adopters reveals the perceptions about learning quality in distance learning (Case, 2008). To ensure credibility of learning through technology in virtual environments, the United States founded the National Home Study Council, as a council that oversees and insures quality control in distance learning (Case, 2008). This was a breakthrough and the beginning of ensuring distance learning continues to deliver exceptional learning despite the indisputable virtual space between learners and instructors.
From the viewpoint of this study, there is no considerable difference between the quality of learning in a face-to-face environment and in distance education. Fundamentally, the research is important to the planned study as it unveils history behind questions regarding learning quality in distance education. The foremost implication is that the study is one-sided and does not include the perceived ineffectiveness of distance learning.
Asynchronous and Synchronous Virtual Learning
Distance education has endeavoured in many higher learning institutions and high schools across the world and the perceptions about its credibility are diverse. As Casey (2008) earlier argued, the mode and teaching approaches, which instructors use, are also determinants of effective learning in distance education. Murphy, Rodríguez-Manzanares, and Barbour (2011) recently undertook an inquiry into the perspectives of Canadian teachers regarding the use of asynchronous and synchronous distance learning techniques.
Canada, just like the United States, has several virtual schools operating through web-based learning programs (Murphy et al., 2011). The main aim of the study was to analyse the effectiveness of asynchronous and synchronous teaching styles and their impact on the learning outcomes. The study recruited teachers from different institutions from different western provinces of Canada (Alberta, British Colombia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan), others from Central and eastern Canada.
Additionally, the teachers associated experiences with distance learning and the asynchronous and synchronous teaching methodologies. Through one-hour phone semi-structured interviews, teachers answered questions regarding asynchronous and synchronous teaching aspects (Murphy et al., 2011). For the results, 12 out of 42 teachers interviewed claimed to use 100% asynchronously techniques strictly, 15 out of 42 said they ‘mostly’ teach using asynchronous online teaching methods (Murphy et al., 2011).
The rest of the teachers indicated that they mostly use asynchronous teaching method and slightly combine with synchronous when the students demand certain tutoring or when institutions require them to integrate synchronous techniques (Murphy et al., 2011). The majority of teachers regard asynchronous teaching techniques that involve online learning where student freely interact, share information and learning resources with the instructors without time limits.
This means teachers avoid commitment to synchronous learning that involves direct chats and feedbacks (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). Synchronous learning is a technique where online interaction and communication between teachers and students is time-bound (Murphy et al., 2011). For online teaching to be effective, the research indicates that both online teaching communication techniques are paramount for quality distance learning.
The research discovered that synchronous communication is capable of supporting direct personal participation, efficient social interaction between learners and instructors, and easiness in exchanging information with little complexity (Murphy et al., 2011). Asynchronous learning induces high cognitive reasoning as learners enjoy ample time for meditation. The research is important to the planned study as it outlines efficiencies associated with online teaching techniques. The implication is that the background strongly supports synchronous, but empirically supports asynchronous learning.
Teaching Practices in Distance Learning
Research on the association between the use of teaching practices and their efficiency in online learning seems diverse depending on various factors that influence online teaching practices. According to Lewis and Abdul-Hamid (2006), knowing the teaching practices is barely enough because commitment of a concerned institution in implementing them makes learning most practical and real.
Lewis and Abdul-Hamid (2006) sought to investigate such presumptions through a recent research study that examined the commitment of institutions and faculty in implementing effective teaching practices in online programs. Using a qualitative research and interviews as data collection techniques, the research examined the process of implementing these teaching practices from thirty instructors, including seventeen undergraduate instructors and thirteen graduate instructors (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). The chosen faculty had different expertise in different disciplines and programs of higher institutions.
The study collected data through direct personal interviews and through phone interviews of between 30 minutes to one-hour intervals (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). The study focused on the emergent themes such as “providing students with constructive feedback, fostering interaction, and involvement, facilitating student learning, and maintaining instructor presence and organization” (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006, p. 83).
The results indicated that instructors have different experiences with instructional strategies and it generally depends on an individual instructor in an application of any known online instructional strategy. The experiences of faculty teaching in online web-based programs are important determinants in the application or implementation of the online teaching techniques (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). Online instructors foster interaction, provide relevant feedback, maintain enthusiasm, facilitate learning, or organize instruction depending on their individual experiences in web-based learning programs.
According to perceptions of instructors, fostering social interactions provided learners with opportunities to explore academic content in an interactive way and collaborative manner. Kim (2011) postulates that efficient learning is attainable where social interaction fosters knowledge sharing among learners. Providing feedback makes distance learning effective as it helps in increasing learning morale and helping instructors to identify absent learners (Darabi, 2011).
Quick and timely feedbacks maintain lively online classrooms. Facilitation of active, reflective, and interactive online learning enables instructors to emphasize on learning efficiency (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). The study is important for the proposed research as it articulates teaching practices and methodologies as foremost aspects that determine efficiency in distance learning. The implication is that instructors and learners should create a virtual environment that promotes effective interaction for learning to happen.
Questioning as an Instructional Strategy
Online education involves the communication between student and instructors and efficient online learning is achievable when learners are capable to understand instructions and respond to them according to the requirements given by the instructors. Questioning is one of the most important instructional delivery strategies that instructors use in delivering instructions to students. In a study, Campbell and Mayer (2009) sought to investigate the perspectives of instructors on using questions as an instructional delivery strategy and the effects it has on distance learning.
The researchers used questions integrated in PowerPoint slides in computer systems for learners to answer using personal response systems (PRS). The 25 slide PowerPoint included “four inserted multiple-choice questions (questioning group) or four corresponding statements (control group)” (Campbell & Mayer, 2009, p. 747). Students in the PRS used handheld remote controls to respond to questions asked by the teachers.
Results revealed that the questioning group managed to outperform the control group based on the experiment on the retention test (Campbell & Mayer, 2009). Throughout the investigation process, the results proved consistent with the generative theory of learning and instructional delivery, which encourage the use of questions as an important part of instructional delivery among teachers (Campbell & Mayer, 2009).
The questions are appropriate and efficient, making the learners comprehend the concepts discussed in a study session as they provide room for learners to meditate during question answering (Campbell & Mayer, 2009). Since distance learning is a form of quasi-permanent, separation between learners and instructors using questions in instructional system makes online classrooms practical, despite the communication being rare between learners and teachers.
The findings of this research are very significant to the intended research study as they reflect the third most important aspect of learning and teaching processes. Apart from teachers and learners as important components of the learning process, instructional delivery is one of the most important facets that support learning accomplishments (Darabi et al., 2011).
Over the years, the validity and credibility of instructional delivery in the fastest growing virtual learning technique have elicited mixed reactions among educational experts. It is still unknown to several instructors, whether using questions in instructional systems in a virtual learning environment is an appropriate technique for learners in universities and other institutions (Campbell & Mayer, 2009). A critical implication of the intended research is that learners and instructors always have differing opinions on the approach of learning.
Factors Influencing Social Presence in Distance Education
For distance learning to prove effective or efficient, several intertwined factors determine the effectiveness of online learning. To make learning effective, instructors must understand that certain factors in the distance-learning environment, influence cohesion among students or social presence in distance education. In a recent investigation, Kim et al. (2011) investigated the relationship between the variables of demographic factors, social presence, and learning satisfaction in distance education.
The research employed a survey as a research approach to investigate two online courses studied by Korean students and hypothesized a positive relationship between quality of instruction, social presence, interactivity, media integration, and learning satisfaction (Kim et al. 2011). The survey analysed the relationship between demographic factors of gender, the work status of learners, and the learning experience of online learners.
In their investigation, the researchers identified that demographic factors such as individual gender, the learning experience of learners, and work status of online students were insignificant factors that had no possibility of influencing social presence or learning satisfaction (Kim et al, 2011). All variables investigated gave a positive relationship between learning satisfaction and social presence in distance learning.
The findings of the study have significant contribution to the planned research as the study investigates critical social components that influence social influence and learning satisfaction, which is part of the questioning efficiency of distance education. An important implication to notice is that the quality of instruction is very important because it determines learning satisfaction and social presence. This unique dilemma would require further investigation, since instructors have inherent factors that influence learning in a virtual environment.
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