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
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 delivery system.
Audiotapes and Television
Still later, disc recordings and recorded tapes offered an extension
of radio and
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
Nevertheless, these media are often part of the delivery system package
TRADITIONAL VERSUS DISTANCE EDUCATION
The computer has changed the traditional offerings of distance education.
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 materials.
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 learning objectives.
Is there an alternative medium that could achieve the same objective?
One emerging trend is the hybrid approach to teaching and learning at
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
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.
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
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 408 965).
Gunawardena, C. N., & McIssac, M. S. (2003). Distance Education. In D. H. Jonassen, Ed., "Handbook of research in educational communications and technology. " Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Popo, W. (2001). Integration of educational media in higher education
Schlosser, L. A., & Simonson, M. (2002). "Distance education: Definition and glossary of terms." Bloomington, IN: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvack, S. (2003). "Teaching and learning at a distance" 2nd ed." Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Smaldino, S. (1999). Instructional design for distance education. "TechTrends."
43(5), 9-13. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ 603 685).
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