ERIC Identifier: ED385311
Publication Date: 1995-05-00
Author: Parrott, Sarah
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Future Learning: Distance Education in Community Colleges. ERIC
Brey's (1991) report of U.S. postsecondary distance learning programs
predicted that the decade of the 1990's would see such phenomenal growth in
distance education programs that most people in the United States would be
served by at least one program. Much of this growth is expected to take place in
the community colleges. As of 1994, 80% of community colleges in the United
States offered some form of distance education program, and that percentage and
the extent of their involvement are expected to increase throughout the decade.
This digest will discuss several aspects of distance education in community
colleges including the technologies utilized, characteristics of distance
learners, and the issues surrounding the application of technology as a form of
TECHNOLOGIES INVOLVED IN DISTANCE EDUCATION
There are two
primary forms of communication utilized to deliver instruction--synchronous and
asynchronous. The main distinction between the two is whether teachers and
learners are participating at the same time or not. Distance programs based on
asynchronous methods use recorded instructional materials. These types of
technologies allow participants to be separated in time and distance from the
delivery of instruction. Thus, telecommunications systems, such as broadcast
television (including cable), or electronically stored media such as video,
audio, and computer software are among the technologies that utilize
The National Survey on Distance Education Practices (1992) reported that
broadcast television was the most widely used technology in postsecondary
distance education. Of the community colleges that responded to a 1990 survey of
distance education, 63% relied on public television broadcasts and 49% used
educational channels, while 4% offered videotape checkout (Brey, 1991). Examples
of other distance education technologies that are asynchronous in nature include
fax machines, voice mail, computer networks and bulletin boards, and e-mail.
Distance education programs of a synchronous nature use technologies that
offer live interactive instruction. Instructional Television Fixed Service
(ITFS) and point-to-point microwave are among the most common live interactive
systems. These systems provide learning classrooms that are linked within the
regional area surrounding an institution. "The system is interactive because the
instructor can see and hear the students at all of the sites. The students are
also able to see and hear one another, as well as their instructor" (Blakesley
& Zahn, 1993). Other examples of synchronous communications include audio
conferencing and real-time computer communications.
As the scope of distance education expands, institutions will use a variety
and combination of recorded and live technologies. This is already evident in
some community colleges. For example, in 1991, during its second year of
operations, the Community College of Maine (CCM) provided 40 courses to 3,655
students in over 75 different locations. According to the Community College of
Maine Annual Report (1990-1991), the interactive television system (ITV) was the
primary means to broadcast courses, but computer conferencing, videodiscs, fax
exchange, audioconferencing, and electronic mail were increasingly being used.
DISTANCE EDUCATION STUDENTS
The Corporation for Public
Broadcasting/Annenberg Project (1988) developed the following general profile:
over 26 years of age, highly motivated, goal-oriented, and unable to attend the
traditional classroom setting. Chattanooga State Technical Community College
(CSTCC) reported that the majority of its distance learners are working adults
seeking degrees or specialized training, students planning to transfer to
four-year institutions, or homebound students or other shut-ins (Hyatt, 1992).
CSTCC students take distance courses over other courses because of
convenience, personal constraints prohibiting regular classroom attendance,
flexibility of time to receive instruction, distance to campus, and cost-savings
(Hyatt, 1992). When Howard Community College Spring 1992 telecourse enrollees
were asked about their reasons for registering, 82% indicated that a lack of
time for in-class attendance was a very important reason. Also, the fact that
taking a telecourse could be combined with family responsibilities was very
important to 65% of the enrollees (Livieratos and Frank, 1992). These student
profiles suggest that distance education serves a population of students whose
life circumstances may not allow them to participate in the traditional
Some colleges have been able through strict
management and good investments to benefit financially from distance education
courses, primarily those taught as telecourses (Miller, 1991; Hyatt, 1992).
However, not all programs have been equally successful. Start-up and production
costs can be expensive. The strapped financial situation of most U.S. community
colleges does not lend itself to the major purchases of technology needed to
deliver distance education programs and to develop and produce new courses--even
if savings can be foreseen in the future. In a summary report of the Symposium
on Telecommunications and the Adult Learner, Brock (1991) urges distance
educators to plan and act strategically to secure new funding for the
maintenance of existing and development of new programs.
Influence federal and state legislation
Secure federal and state financing
Form new partnerships
Increase revenue from sales
Seek grants from foundations and corporations.
IMPACT ON STUDENT LEARNING AND ACCESS
Searcy and Others
(1993) and Nixon (1992) conducted studies to determine whether students learn as
well via distance education as traditional education. Both Searcy (1993) and
Nixon (1992) found no significant difference in average GPAs between telecourse
and traditional formats. However, Searcy did find that student completion rates
might be higher in the traditional sections than in the telecourse sections.
This finding raises other questions concerning the factors that may impede
student course completion. For example, will distance education be able to
equally serve students who need more guidance or more extensive interaction with
Another student-related issue is access. Access to education for those who do
not attend classes on campus can be a question of their access to technology,
i.e., the higher or more exotic the technology, the fewer the students who have
means to use it (Lemke and Others, 1992). Low-income, minority, and
underrepresented students are likely to be among those who may not have access
to the technology or have the technological experience necessary to take
advantage of distance education courses. Will these circumstances create a
divide between the "technology rich" and the "technology poor?" Clearly, how
distance education affects access and student learning needs to be closely
Currently, one of the greatest
challenges to the implementation of widespread distance education programs on
community college campuses has arisen among those faculty who are uncomfortable
with distance education and reluctant to embrace its technologies.
Understandably, they are concerned about the impact of technology on their roles
as faculty members. Faculty unions have been active on behalf of the faculty in
this regard. Current issues being discussed among faculty union members include
intellectual property rights, fair compensation (residual earnings every time
one's course is televised), decline in quality due to canned courses, and
preserving human contact (Monaghan, 1995).
Despite the challenges distance education
presents to our traditional conceptions of education and instructional delivery,
distance education enrollment at community colleges has increased greatly over
the last decade, suggesting that distance education offers an alternative to the
traditional classroom experience that accommodates many students' individual
circumstances and educational needs. Although the goals and outcomes of distance
education are still somewhat unclear, it is generally agreed upon, however, that
the marriage of technology and higher education will be a lasting one, and by
the year 2000 more students will be instructed via more media than was ever
Blakesley, L. and Zahn, S. "Reaching Students
through Distance Education." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the North
Central Association, Chicago, IL, April 4-6, 1993. (ED 356 817)
Brey, R. "U.S. Postsecondary Distance Learning Programs in the 1990s: A
Decade of Growth." Washington, DC: American Association of Community and Junior
Colleges, Instructional Telecommunications Consortium, 1991. (ED 340 418)
Brey, R. and Gigsby, C. "A Study of Telecourse Students." Washington, DC:
Corporation for Public Broadcasting/Annenberg Project, 1988.
Brock, R., Symposium on Telecommunications and the Adult Learner. Washington,
DC: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, Instructional
Telecommunications Consortium, 1991. (ED 340 419)
Hyatt, S. "Developing and Managing a Multi-Modal Distance Learning Program in
the Two-Year College." Paper presented at the Annual International Conference of
the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development on Teaching
Excellence and Conference of Administrators, Austin, Texas, May 24-27, 1992. (ED
The Community College of Maine Annual Report, Year Two, 1990-1991. Augusta,
Maine: Main University, Office of Distance Education, 1991. (ED 343 622)
Lemke, R.A. and Others. "Advancing Distance Education Programs with Ordinary
Technologies." Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Presentations at
the Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology
and Sponsored by the Research and Theory Division, 1992. (ED 348 009)
Livieratos, B.B., and Frank, J. M. "Alternative Learning Modes: Spring '92
Telecourse and Weekend College Enrollees. Columbia, MD: Howard Community College
Office of Planning and Evaluation Research, 1992. (ED 352 105)
Miller, L. W. "Work Force Development through Distance Learning." New
Directions for Community Colleges, 1991, 19(3), 63-68.
Monaghan, P. "Technology and the Unions: Faculty Labor Leaders Air Hopes and
Concerns as Colleges Enter the Electronic Era." Chronicle of Higher Education,
February 10, 1995.
National Survey on Distance Education Practices, 1992. Nixon, D.E.
"Simulteaching: Access to Learning by Means of Interactive Television."
Community Junior College Quarterly of Research and Practice, 1992, 16(2),
Searcy, R.D. and Others. "Grade Distribution Study: Telecourses vs.
Traditional Courses." Prepared for the Calhoun Telecourse Steering Committee.
Decatur, Ala: Calhoun Community College, 1993. (ED 362 251)