ERIC Identifier: ED480236
Publication Date: 2003-05-00
Author: Ely, Donald P
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology
Selecting Media for Distance Education. ERIC Digest.
Distance education is defined as "institution-based, formal education
where the learning group is separate, and where interactive telecommunications
systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors" (Schlosser
and Simonson, 2002). This widely used definition does not specify which
media, if any, are commonly used for learning at a distance. The term,
interactive telecommunications systems, implies that instructors and learners
use a variety of technological resources when teaching and learning at
a distance. This ERIC Digest will explore media options as they relate
to instructional design for distance education, since the function and
design of each medium needs to be understood if it is to lead to learning.
ONLINE LEARNING IS ONLY ONE TYPE OF DISTANCE LEARNING
Distance education is often called online learning because Internet-connected
computers are the primary delivery vehicles that bring together teacher
This connection implies the replacement of face-to-face instruction
that has existed
since the beginning of time. It is understandable then that distance
mimics face-to-face learning. The availability of contemporary technological
creates opportunities for teachers to engage learners without directly
facing them and, at the same time, to enhance the process.
One of the major distinctions in the history of distance learning has
been its medium of delivery. Some of the early programs were delivered
primarily in print and are often referred to as correspondence courses.
Correspondence study was conducted largely through the mail. The instructional
media were books and other printed materials. The papers that passed from
teacher to learner and vice versa provided the interaction.
Today, the most common medium for learning at a distance is still paper-books,
study guides, and bibliographies--while it may not be as glamorous as some
of the colorful computer-based graphic resources.
Radio and Telephone
Another "old-timer" is radio. There are many examples of using radio
for teaching and learning. Radio is a synchronous medium; that is, all
learners have to be listening at the same time even though they are in
different locations. Later, radio learning was enhanced by telephone conference
calls during or after the initial audio presentation. Instruction by both
telephone and radio usually incorporated printed materials as part of the
Audiotapes and Television
Still later, disc recordings and recorded tapes offered an extension
of radio and
telephone communication. With the advent of audiotape, radio programs
recorded and sent to learners, who could then choose the time and place
to listen and respond to the materials presented in the audiotapes. When
broadcast television became available, complete courses were offered (often
at early morning hours) with supplemental materials, such as printed texts
Each new delivery vehicle often absorbed support media from previous
systems. Each communication vehicle was the framework that permitted interaction
between teacher and student, thus validating each approach as a delivery
system. These approaches retained the feeling and experience of most traditional
face-to-face classes. Other variations, such as complete courses on audiotape
or videotape, followed and incorporated some of the earlier media and interactive
procedures between distance teachers and learners. Closed circuit television
offered still another approach. Lessons were offered simultaneously to
students in remote locations, such as a university campus or individual
school buildings in a school system.
Current distance learning programs are increasingly relying on computer
technologies but still use traditional media as resources for effective
learning. These media are
relatively inexpensive and can reach many individuals who prefer to
and wherever they wish. The downside of one-way media use, with the
exception of the telephone, is that interaction is limited and feedback
is often delayed because of slow postal systems that deliver both study
materials and responses to learner papers.
Nevertheless, these media are often part of the delivery system package
computer-based distance education continues to grow.
TRADITIONAL VERSUS DISTANCE EDUCATION
The computer has changed the traditional offerings of distance education.
online learning, creates a new orientation for teachers and learners.
It retains many of the characteristics of earlier forms of distance learning
while offering more sophisticated media resources as integral components
of the learning process. Even though many of the resources are the same
in content, they have become an essential part of computer-delivered programs.
It is possible to provide charts, graphs, maps, slides, moving images,
and audio recordings with the study guide that helps to organize and deliver
an entire course. It is the interaction between instructor and student
in distance settings that requires communication on a person-to-person
basis. This interaction uses e-mail, telephone conference calls and "chat"
functions in computer programs to substitute for the face-to-face experiences
of earlier times. The original distance education by correspondence has
been upgraded by Twenty-first Century technology.
The primary question stemming from these new developments is: "Do students
learn as well at a distance using contemporary technologies as they do
when attending a face-to-face class?" Many studies regarding this question
have been conducted and most research findings show that there is no significant
difference between learning at a distance and face-to-face classroom learning.
This finding applies to all age groups in almost every setting (Simonson,
Smaldino, Albright and Zvacek, 2003; Gunawardena and McIsaac, 2003). If
these findings are true, even most of the time, what are the implications
for selecting media for teaching at a distance?
SELECTION OF APPROPRIATE MEDIA
The process of selecting media for learning at a distance is, in most
cases, the same (or nearly the same) as media selected for face-to-face
teaching and learning. Delivery of media online offers easy access for
students who are located at home, in a place of work or using computer
access points in schools and libraries. Selecting media for distance education
begins with consideration of course (or unit) objectives as a starting
point. If learning can be facilitated by seeing, hearing or using manipulative
media, which medium or media should be used to achieve the objectives and
how will it be delivered? Can it be integrated with an online course management
system (such as Blackboard, click2learn or WebCT) or should it be separate
for use in conjunction with printed handouts and online guidance? Some
distance courses provide kits of media that are used off-line. Examples
are science laboratory kits, audio lectures, and packets of manipulative
Each medium should pass certain tests before incorporating it into the
distance learning scheme. Will the learner have access to the medium at
home, work or in a community setting? Does the access include the necessary
software? Can the cost of the material be justified, that is, is it cost
effective for the instructor to produce and for the students to acquire?
Is the resource essential or just "nice to have"? Again, think about cost
to the student and the extent to which it will enhance achievement of the
Is there an alternative medium that could achieve the same objective?
sometimes printed materials instead of audiovisual media will suffice.)
Will it be
delivered as an integral part of a course management system or as a
(For example, do students have separate means to use CD-ROM, floppy
videotape, audiotape, slides or manipulative materials?) Will interaction
be handled by e-mail, online discussion groups, telephone (individual or
conference calls), infrequent face-to-face meetings, or postal correspondence?
One emerging trend is the hybrid approach to teaching and learning at
There are many opportunities for creating hybrid distance education.
One of the most common designs is online with both face-to-face and telephone
conference calls within a single course. Hybrid courses do not change the
decisions about media to be used, but they do require new instructional
designs. Hybrid distance education usually facilitates interactivity among
students and between the instructor and students. One example is a hybrid
course that is offered primarily online, with students meeting face-to-face
at the beginning of the course (or at mid-point) and the instructor initiating
a conference call with groups every other week. This approach helps to
replicate the social element of traditional courses and student conversations
before and after classes and in the coffee shop. When the social factor
is included using some of these techniques, there are fewer concerns about
student isolation, which can otherwise be a fairly frequent complaint of
distance education courses.
Special considerations for distance learning are as follows: (1) determine
your primary delivery approach (online or hybrid); (2) review the course
outline to determine where media can be used to facilitate learning; (3)
ascertain availability of student access to the media selected; and (4)
locate appropriate resources to fit your objectives or plan to create them.
Be sure to consider alternative media that may be less expensive, yet
effective as more expensive media. For example, print, audio and video
recordings, and the telephone should be considered in the selection process.
The challenge is to select and provide appropriate media that will accomplish
learning objectives in the most cost-effective manner. Remember, there
are often less expensive alternatives that will accomplish the same objectives.
A useful Media Selection Worksheet can offer a beginning for planning
media use. Here is one: www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/authoring/handbooks/cs-media.html/.
Media selection procedures are offered at http://ide.de.psu.edu/idde.
Strategies and determine which processes best suit your needs.
An excellent overview of telecommunications media for distance learning
is available at: www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed358841.html/.
An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and
Development of Distance Education contains a comprehensive overview of
distance learning design. Page 7 lists principles for instructional media
and tools. Visit www.worldcampus.psu.edu/ide/docs/guiding_principles.pdf/.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Clarke, A. (2001). "Assessing the quality of open and distance learning
Leicester, England: National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 459 362).
Dede, C. (1999). The multiple-media difference. "TECHNOS, " 8(1), 16-18.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ 586 385).
Gibbs, W. J., & Fewell, P. J. (1997). Virtual courses and visual
media. In "Vision quest: Journeys toward visual literacy. " International
Visual Literacy Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED
Gunawardena, C. N., & McIssac, M. S. (2003). Distance Education.
In D. H. Jonassen, Ed., "Handbook of research in educational communications
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Popo, W. (2001). Integration of educational media in higher education
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Schlosser, L. A., & Simonson, M. (2002). "Distance education: Definition
and glossary of terms." Bloomington, IN: Association for Educational Communications
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvack, S. (2003). "Teaching
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