Implications of Distance Education for CTE. ERIC
by Wonacott, Michael E.
An array of forces worldwide is having a profound effect on the way
education is delivered, including career and technical education (CTE).
Distance education is increasingly seen as a powerful vehicle, especially
when provided through information and communication technology (ICT). This
Digest discusses the implications of distance education for CTE, with an
emphasis on the implications of distance education through ICT.
Changes in Educational Delivery.
Fast-paced and pervasive changes are occurring in the economic, social,
and technological foundations of education and educational delivery (Dirr
1999). Short product cycles, a fast-expanding knowledge base, and the rapid
obsolescence of existing knowledge put tremendous pressure on employers
to upgrade worker skills in a timely, effective, economical manner--"just
in time" (JIT) training. Workers are often reluctant to interrupt their
careers for full-time study in traditional educational settings; lifelong
learners want greater flexibility to accommodate diverse personal circumstances.
Changes in the infrastructure, capacity, functionality, and cost of information
and communications technology (ICT) have increased access to ICT, the use
of ICT for educational purposes, and the suitability of ICT as a medium
for learning in line with an evolving pedagogy of learning that is constructivist,
interactive, collaborative, learner centered, and just in time.
In response to such changes, there has been a resurgence of distance
education, particularly in postsecondary education (Greene and Meek 1998;
Lewis et al. 1999). In just 3 years, from 1994-95 to 1997-98, the number
of distance education courses offered rose from 25,730, with about 760,000
students enrolled, to 54,470 courses offered, with about 1.66 million enrollments.
The number of graduate and undergraduate degree programs available by distance
education rose from 690 in 1995 to 1,190 (500 undergraduate) in 1997-98;
certificate programs increased from 170 to 330 (160 undergraduate). The
most common ICTs used in 1995 for distance education were two-way interactive
video and one-way prerecorded video; by 1997-98, they were edged out by
Internet courses with asynchronous computer-based instruction.
Distance Education in CTE.
Comprehensive nationwide statistics are not available specifically for
postsecondary CTE distance education, but available data suggest CTE involvement
(ibid.). By 1998, 62 percent of public and 5 percent of private 2-year
postsecondary institutions offered distance education courses. Even in
1995, 39 percent of institutions offering distance education were targeting
professionals seeking re-certification, and 49 percent were targeting workers
seeking skill updating or retraining.
Internet searching reveals examples of postsecondary CTE distance education
via ICT. Consortia like the Community Colleges of Colorado ccconline.org
and the Ohio Learning Network www.oln.org expand access to member institutions'
distance occupational associate degrees and certificates with supporting
coursework. Rio Salado College www.rio.maricopa.edu specializes in flexible
delivery beyond the traditional campus and offers about 300 distance courses,
with a wide variety of occupational degree and certificate programs, in
Internet, print-based, audio, video, computer, and CD-ROM formats. The
Global Network Academy's Distance Learning Catalog www.gnacademy.org/mason/catalog/browse.html
provides information and links organized by subject areas or educational
levels; the Distance Education and Training Council www.detc.org lists
occupational associate and other degrees offered by accredited institutions
and links to those institutions.
A recurring theme is the need for faculty development for distance education,
particularly using ICT (Miller 1997; Murphy and Terry 1998; Nahdi 1999).
Faculty at all levels, from postsecondary teacher educators to secondary
instructors, typically reported that, although favorably disposed, they
lacked knowledge and skills needed for effective delivery; in addition,
many faculty report that they have had no experience in distance education
or ICT delivery. In-service training was frequently cited as a solution.
Learners, educational institutions, and CTE programs need physical access
to the ICT networks used to deliver distance education (Bowen and Thomson
1995; Miller 1997; Van Dusen 2000). In addition, institutions must supplement
Internet access with an intranet of connections between and within buildings
and personal computers (PCs) and liberal access to PCs for both faculty
and students; satellite dishes or dedicated land lines may also be required
for one-way or two-way video. Individual learners need ICT access--typically
Internet access and a PC. Limited availability of Internet connections
in remote areas and the cost of PCs and Internet services contribute to
a digital divide--unequal access across income levels, demographic groups,
and geographic areas--that in practice deprives some learners of access
to distance education via ICT. Yet distance education, particularly via
asynchronous online delivery, can help increase access to learning opportunities
by loosening rigid constraints of time and place, allowing flexible delivery
methods, and using adaptive technologies to meet the needs of learners
in remote locations, those with disabilities and literacy needs, and women
with family responsibilities (Booker 2000; Kearns 2000).
Distance education via ICT can be expensive both in startup and ongoing
costs (Van Dusen 2000). Initial hardware and software purchase costs, although
substantial, may be dwarfed by the expense of frequent upgrades, faculty
development, and technical support; course design and development require
considerable and expensive faculty time.
Effectiveness and Appropriateness.
The academic rigor (active learning, effort, high cognitive level) of
distance education was sometimes perceived as lower than that of traditional
face-to-face instruction (Miller and Shih 1999). The appropriateness of
ICT for hands-on learning experiences has been questioned (Miller 1997),
although one study reported high student satisfaction (backed by instructor
ratings) with an asynchronous Web-based program to develop hands-on horticulture
skills (Mudge and Way 1999), and another concluded that paper-and-pencil
testing and Internet-based computerized testing of occupational competency
test bank items were equivalent (Kapes et al. 1998). One important aspect
of effectiveness is learning style; some studies characterized the successful
distance student as an independent learner (e.g., Tucker 2000), but others
found no correlation between learning style and learning outcomes (e.g.,
Day et al. 1997).
One review (Phipps and Merisotis 1999) questions the quality of current
research on the effectiveness of distance education in higher education,
citing some frequent shortcomings: lack of control for extraneous variables
and for student and faculty feelings and attitudes; non-randomly selected
subjects; questionable validity and reliability of instruments used to
measure student outcomes and attitudes; and a focus on individual course
outcomes rather than program outcomes. A review of program quality measures
used by leading distance education institutions (Phipps and Merisotis 2000)
identified 24 benchmarks in seven categories (institutional support, course
development, teaching/learning, course structure, student support, faculty
support, and evaluation and assessment) considered essential to ensuring
excellence in Internet-based distance education.
Copyright restrictions may be a barrier in distance education (THE POWER
OF THE INTERNET FOR LEARNING 2000; U.S. Copyright Office 1999). Current
U.S. copyright law allows fairly liberal use of copyrighted materials by
nonprofit educational institutions for educational purposes in a broadly
defined "face-to-face setting" without the copyright holder's permission.
However, the distribution and use of copyrighted materials, particularly
multimedia, via ICT go beyond the provisions of current law because copies
of the materials are made on the user's hard drive and because materials
on a public website may be available to the general public. Consequently,
educators who use copyrighted materials in a face-to-face setting are often
unable to use those same materials for distance education. In March 2001,
the Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act, S. 487, was introduced
to bring copyright law in line with advancements in ICT.
Diploma mills, a bachelor's degree in 4 weeks, a second degree in 3
hours-the character, quality, and standards of distance education institutions
and programs are critical issues for distance learners, particularly when
programs are available via ICT from any corner of the globe (ACCREDITATION
IN THE U.S. 2001; DISTANCE LEARNING DISCUSSION BOARD 2001). Accreditation
is one means of protecting what can be a considerable investment of learner
and public funds; it is often one criterion in determining acceptability
of transfer credits-and always one criterion in determining eligibility
for federal assistance.
In addition to regional institutional accrediting agencies, two specialty
accrediting bodies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for
distance education (NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED ACCREDITING AGENCIES 2001). The
Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council accredits
private and public distance education institutions offering non-degree
and associate, baccalaureate, and master's degree programs primarily through
distance education. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
of Technology accredits private, postsecondary institutions, including
those granting associate and baccalaureate degrees, that are predominantly
organized to educate students for occupational, trade and technical careers,
including institutions that offer distance education.
Although many have concluded that ICT is as effective as traditional
approaches to distance education, that conclusion is not universally accepted.
Nor is ICT delivery without problems--faculty development, the digital
divide, cost, copyright, accreditation. Nevertheless, to many, the increased
access to learning at any time, in any place, for any learner overrides
other issues; growing numbers of offerings and enrollments suggest that
ICT delivery--whether or not the best of all possible worlds--indeed meets
a widely felt need in CTE.
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