ERIC Identifier: ED436528
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Mielke, Dan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching
and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Effective Teaching in Distance Education. ERIC Digest.
For over 100 years, distance education has served as an alternative method
for delivering academic course work to students unable to attend traditional
campus-based classes. The format of distance education varies from
correspondence-style courses to technologically based courses using the
Internet. Distance education offers students considerable benefits, including
increased access to learning, lifelong learning opportunities, and convenience
of time and place (St. Pierre, 1998). Distance education may be essential for
learners who are truly place-bound because of factors such as employment,
child-care demands, disability, or remoteness of the location where they live
(Rintala, 1998). This digest presents information on the many forms distance
education can take and keys to successful teaching with distance education.
WHAT IS DISTANCE EDUCATION?
Distance education is a method
of education in which the learner is physically separated from the teacher and
the institution sponsoring the instruction. It may be used on its own, or in
conjunction with other forms of education, including face-to-face instruction.
In any distance education process there must be a teacher, one or more students,
and a course or curriculum that the teacher is capable of teaching and the
student is trying to learn. The contract between teacher and learner, whether in
a traditional classroom or distance education, requires that the student be
taught, assessed, given guidance and, where appropriate, prepared for
examinations that may or may not be conducted by the institution. This must be
accomplished by two-way communication. Learning may be undertaken either
individually or in groups; in either case, it is accomplished in the physical
absence of the teacher in distance education. Where distance teaching materials
are provided to learners, they are structured in ways that facilitate learning
at a distance.
FORMS OF DISTANCE EDUCATION
In its original form, teachers
using distance education traveled to remote sites and taught a class, or
corresponded with students through mail, telephone, or fax machine.
Individualized study has been a method of reaching the remote student for some
time. Detailed course instructions are sent to the learner who performs the
assigned tasks and returns the completed work to the teacher for evaluation and
reassignment if necessary.
Technology has raised the quality of individualized distance instruction. The
use of various forms of electronic media increases time effectiveness and
improves the delivery of information. Video, audio, and computer-based
applications may enhance the product received by the independent learner.
Electronic delivery can occur using synchronous communication, in which class
members participate at the same time, or asynchronous communication where
participants are separated by time (Romiszowski, 1993).
Video/audio models of distance education include broadcast television, cable
television, satellite, microwave, fiber optics, and audio graphics. The most
widely used format is broadcast and cable television (Parrott, 1995). However,
developments in satellite and fiber optic systems have produced other successful
programs. The interactive capability of many of these networks has produced a
distance classroom that is nearly identical to a regular classroom. Teachers and
students can interact through both two-way video and one-way video with two-way
audio systems. The recent development of Desktop Video Conferencing (DVC) which
brings interactive video capability to the desktop computer, further enhances
The linking of computer technology through the use of the Internet or CD-ROM
with television transmission provides a potentially new dimension to distance
education. This technique can link university professors to high school
teachers, or to physically disabled students, in a distance setting (McLean,
Another form of interaction is the use of computer conferencing. This method
utilizes asynchronous communication in such forms as an e-mail list group, an
Internet discussion group, or other types of conferencing software. Asynchronous
methods of communication are especially appealing to the learner who has
difficulty scheduling specific time- and place-bound course work.
Distance education can be used for some
aspects of most disciplines. For example, several institutions of higher
education already have developed certificate programs, undergraduate programs,
and graduate programs in health and physical education that are delivered using
distance education methods. Eastern Oregon University, Emporia State University,
Kutztown University, LaSalle University, the Medical College of Wisconsin,
University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, and Virginia Tech are among
institutions integrating distance technology into their physical education
Traditional programs that are heavily based in skill development and
demonstration or require laboratory work can be offered in a distance education
framework using interactive video interfaced with computers to facilitate a
hands-on learning approach at a distance. Classes that use lecture and
laboratory experiences are easily adapted to a distance education situation.
Course materials, including animals for dissection, are sent to class
participants with video and written instructions and assignments.
EFFECTIVE TEACHING AND LEARNING WITH DISTANCE
Distance education dictates changes in behavior for both the
teacher and the learner. The successful student develops persistence and skills
in self-directing work. The successful distance education teacher becomes
conversant with new technology and develops new instructional styles, moving
from creating instruction to managing resources and students and disseminating
views (Strain, 1987). Administrative and faculty support for distance education
are critical to the success of this instructional method. Administrators should
take note that the implementation of a distance education program may allow
access to a greater number of students. However, the time and work associated
with teaching at a distance exceeds the normal requirements of campus-based
Students in distance education settings perform as well or better on
assignments, class activities, and exams when compared to campus-based students
(St. Pierre, 1998). Nevertheless, students must maintain persistence and a clear
focus to succeed in a distance learning situation. Self-direction, a passion for
learning, and strong individual responsibility are important influences on
achievement. There are indications that distance education works best for more
mature, motivated, well-organized, and already accomplished learners (Rintala,
Garrels (1997) describes five critical elements for successful teaching at a
Instructor enthusiasm. This requires animation and comfort in front of the
camera, or with the technology utilized. Faculty support and interest are
critical to the success of distance learning endeavors.
Organization. Teaching materials must be prepared in advance; timing, variation,
and smooth transitions must be planned. Instructors should allocate from 3 to 5
hours of preparation for each hour of distance instruction. Great attention to
detail is required long before the actual classroom activity occurs (Summers,
Strong commitment to student interaction. Whatever the modality used to teach at
a distance, the instructor must encourage and facilitate ongoing communication
between the students and the instructor.
Familiarity with the technology used in the class format. Faculty development is
important before beginning any distance activities, and instructors should be
trained in video use, computer use, or other forms of instructional technology
Critical support personnel. Production staff, graphic designers, and technical
staff members will help the instructional setting produce successful teaching at
The potential use of distance education within
all disciplines is tremendous as this application to higher education evolves
within our culture. Distance education is not a panacea for the difficulties and
barriers encountered in traditional educational settings, but it does provide
the potential for greater service to more individuals seeking learning
References identified with an EJ or ED number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should
be available at most research libraries; most documents (ED) are available in
microfiche collections at more than 900 locations. Documents can also be ordered
through the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (800-443-ERIC).
Garrels, M. (1997). Dynamic relationships: Five critical elements for
teaching at a distance. Faculty Development Papers. Available online at: Indiana
Higher Education Telecommunication System
McLean, D. D. (1996). Use of computer-based technology in health, physical
education, recreation, and dance. ERIC Digest 94-7. Washington, DC: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education. ED 390 874
Parrott, S. (1995). Future learning: Distance education in community
colleges. ERIC Digest 95-2. Los Angeles, CA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Community
Colleges. ED 385 311
Rintala, J. (1998). Computer technology in higher education: An experiment,
not a solution. Quest, 50(4), 366-378. EJ 576 392 Romiszowski, A. (1993).
Telecommunications and distance education. ERIC Digest 93-2. Syracuse, NY: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Information Resources. ED 358 841
St. Pierre, P. (1998). Distance learning in physical education teacher
education. Quest, 50(4), 344-356. EJ 576 391
Strain, J. (1987). The role of the faculty member in distance education.
American Journal of Distance Education, 1 (2).
Summers, M. (1997). From a distance: Or, how I learned to love my "tv" class.
Faculty Development Papers. Available online at: Indiana Higher Education