Comments & Questions on

Distance Education - A System View by Michael Moore 

Prepared by Su-Tuan Lulee for EDTEC 550  Distance Education - Fall 2007

Educational Technology Dept. San Diego State University

Technology Demonstration - Sakai Basic

Comments & Questions on Distance Education - A System View

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Chapter 1


Michael Moore is a famous theorist in the field of distance education. He is known for his transactional distance theory that elaborates the relationship between course design (How programs are structured), dialogue (interaction between teacher and learner), and distance. This book began with essential terminologies and elements that build the mechanism of distance education; moved to historical view of introduction, scope of study, current researches, and technologies; followed by course design and development, instruction, administration, learner aspects, and fundamental theories. Before closure, Moore provides a global vision and directions for reform.

Interesting Points:
In last session, the author mentioned about the resistance from the instructors. This situation still happens in many school districts in US as well as other countries. I did small survey among universities in Taiwan this summer. The result told me that many faculties do not want to deliver distance courses because their workloads are increased yet their compensation remains the same. Other faculties resist technologies because they are not comfortable with technologies and they question on the results of teaching from distance. Most of all, they won’t get credit from their efforts that they invest into distance education.


I am interested in learning about the actions taken by schools or government to encourage educators’ participation in US.


Chapter 2


Interesting Points:

Chapter 2 introduced five generations in the historical development of distance education. Several technologies have supported the evolution of the field, include print, radio, recorded audio, telephone, fax, electronic boards, television, recorded video, streaming video, videoconferencing, and network technologies. (Saba, 2001-2004) Most of them are very expensive in their ages, except print and radio. Unfortunately, few successful cases could be found in learning through print materials, radio, television, or early forms of telecommunication. Most of educators from leading universities still do not consider distance education as a competitive model for education today. I myself do not believe in any forms of distance education until network technology became a commonly affordable facility and Web 2.0 became such a powerful environment for dynamic learning. I found that “cost of technology” and “ability for interaction” directly affect the three variables in Moore’s transactional distance theory -- course design, dialogue, and geographical distance. They also decide how the three variables could be managed.

Chapter 2 haven’t discussed the cost of distance education, if it did, I wonder what the conclusion might be. What does the inexpensive Internet technology have brought to distance education?


Chapter 3


Points of Interest

  1. It took sixty some years to move from correspondence course (1890) to telecourse (1956); but it took less than ten years to move from Satellite TV network to computer network. The speed of progress is getting faster due to the progress of technology
  2. Department of Defense has played a key role in the progress of both technology and theory of distance education in America.
  3. Telecourse and satellite TV network are both very expensive. Only companies or organizations can afford to develop telecourse or satellite TV network course. On the contrast, the cost for developing computer network course is comparatively low and individuals as well as institutions can afford the cost for developing computer-based courses. 

Open Universities like Nova University and Walden University have been in the field of distance education for about forty years; yet, in my experience, almost no professor from leading universities considers degrees obtained from Nova and Walden are trust worthy. Why?


Chapter 4


Points of Interest

I found following few points very interesting:

  • There is no significant difference between learning from distance and learning on campus.
  • Media selection should be learning content driven instead of technology driven. 
  • I found variables listed on table 4-1 provided a good framework for researchers who are interested in distance education. 


  • If face to face contact is not a vital factor for effective learning process, will it be possible that live chat is not so necessary for distance courses, too? I have enrolled in two very good distance education programs and they did not have live chat in the programs at all. Instead, these two distance education programs provided many learning activities to promote engagement from distance learners.
  • I wonder why Moore said that issues about how to be an effective distance educators has not been discussed insightfully yet. If we search over the Internet, we could find many good papers regarding that topic.


Chapter 5


Points of Interest

  • This chapter discussed a lot about weakness and strength of media. It is interesting to read how print material, audio tape, and television program played an important roles in their times.
  • The development of audio/video tapes and television programs are expensive. They are mainly caused by the cost of equipments and the special techniques required. The progress of computer technologies decreases the level of difficulty in developing courses hence greatly reduces the cost.

·          It is recommended to integrate more than one media in distance learning programs because no single media fit for all learners. Multiple media could meet the demands from learners with multiple learning styles. Moreover, in case of one particular medium failing to deliver correctly, other media could substitute for it.



  • I agree that every media and communication technology has its strength and weakness and educators should select media carefully; however, I wonder if it’s proper to say that there is no right and wrong in adopting technologies in distance education. For example, I will say that it’s wrong to use audio in presenting how to assemble a set of faucet unless there is no other choice.


Chapter 6-1 (Design and Development)


Interesting Points:

  • In introducing ADDIE model, the author analyzed why ISD did not work well in some institutions while worked well in others. One of the reasons for successful adoption of ISD is that those institutions, such as open universities, big companies, and DoD, focus on particular short term goals. This point of analysis seems fit in my experience, I have never thought over the issue in that way. When I look back my years of designing instructional programs for companies, I found that when we focused on completing a short-term project, all participants could work in the system model from initial stage to closure stage. However, it was much more difficult to keep the team worked to ISD standards when the program had to be lasted for couple years or the program was a continuing ongoing project in its nature (such as an internal long-term learning program for the organization). 
  • Distance education program should be divided into 15-20 minute/per unit so that adult learners could pick up their study whenever they got a brief space of time. I have been expecting a quiet few hours for study in my real life, now I know distance education is designed for people who has only pieced of time, I would try to make use of my time more aggressively, and even there is only 30 minutes of spare time. 
  • Designer of distance education program should focus on:
    • Discussion topics that could help learners connect oncepts between different units
    • Summarize what should have been learned
    • Activities that could provide evidences for assessing learning outcomes


  • In discussing about curriculum and course development, the author talked about the weakness of author-editor model. One of the weaknesses is that some subject experts are not capable of outlining learning goals, assessment criteria and teaching strategies. I can understand that subject experts might not familiar with teaching and assessment, but I don’t understand that why subject matters would be incapable of listing learning goals for the subject.
  • In discussing course unit, the author gave an example: a 1500-hour course was divided in 15 weeks, 10 hours per week. If there were 10 hours a week in 15 weeks, it should be 150 hours instead of 1500 hours in total. Do I misunderstand some points?
  • I found that the evaluation criteria from NUCEA (National University Continuing Education Association) might be suitable for before-computer age but not so suitable for web-based distance education programs in term of completeness. Some criteria might have been skipped. For example, teaching/learning activities design, samples for assignments, course schedule, etc.


Chapter 6-2 (Instructor’s Role)


Interesting Points:

The discussion on distance instructors and facilitators are interesting. In the book, a facilitator are referred to a coordinator-like role but in my past study, instructors for distance education usually have two roles – instructor and facilitator (or moderator).

Zame amd Berge suggested that the role of the online instructor has four areas, pedagogical, social managerial, and technical. I found the article very helpful in providing a macro view for role of distance instructors’ role.


Chapter 7


Points of Interest

  • In Billings model (1988), they listed many factors for effective distance learning such as personal goals, satisfaction for the course, difficulty in learning, feedback, isolation, family support, past experience in participating distance courses, preparation before enrollment, and most important, according to the research, is intention and motivation for completion. I think the conclusion responds to Knowles’s assumption about the characteristics of adult learning. Adult learners are self-directed and intrinsic motivated. When adult learners feel relevant, utilized, and interested, they are likely to have the intention and motivation to complete their courses.
  • Moore discussed in his book that distance learners need support for consulting general questions, assisting in administrative matters, as well as methods for interacting with instructors and peers. Proper and in time learner support can reduce dropout ratio. In my experience, learner support for distance education can also be broadened to cover technology self-efficacy check, learner readiness check, study skills workshops, etc. Good example for learner readiness support can be found over the Internet such as Arizona State University Online, University of Wisconsin Online Learning, Illinois Online Network, and Virginia Tech. 



  • In Moore’s survey for learner satisfaction, he found that learner satisfaction is not significantly related to learning outcome. Even a student dislike a specific course, she/he could present distinguished achievement in learning that course. What might be the reasons for that? Could it because that adult learners see learning as a way to solve problems they are currently facing; therefore, completing the course is something they must do by any means?


Chapter 8


Points of Interest

  • This chapter discussed barriers for distance education in all aspects such as enrollment, faculty, technology, etc. Although they seem to be very general and broad, they are interesting. We could benefit from it more if we look for most updated information from the Internet then reflect on the chapter. One article, Thirty-two Trends Affecting Distance Education: An Informed Foundation for Strategic Planning, I read two years ago has specific discussion on the most important issue for distance education.
  • I feel released when I learned that 27% states in America allow teachers teach in their states with outer-state teacher credential. In addition, only 2.55% of states require special certificate for teaching online. Why? Because I have California Teacher Credential and two certificates for distance education, but I am not sure what I can do with those.
  • As an online instructor, I wish every college would upgrade their distance education policies like Penn State.



·         I am surprised that this chapter did not discuss about student retention. That is a big issue for many distance programs.


Chapter 9


 Interesting Points:

Chapter 9 introduces milestone perspectives on distance education. Although each scholar has different point of view, many of them are concerned about the influences of geographic separation on teaching and learning. Peters looks broadly at the system of distance education and suggests thinking highly of the economic scale; Wedemeyer, Moore, and Holmberg focus more on the design of instructional programs and discuss more about the effects of distance on structure and dialog. From my own experiences of learning from distance, it is very true that structure and dialog greatly affect individual learners’ feeling of distance. However, dialog cannot always reduce the feeling of distance. For example, I don’t think synchronous dialog is always helpful or necessary for a distance learning course. When a live dialog does not aim at sharpen learners’ thinking or a live dialog is given simply because the instructor needs to have an evidence of participation, this kind of dialog does not reduce individual isolation. On the other hand, a course that can invite frequent meaningful dialog that central to discipline or can provide ample opportunities for learners to learn through group works from distance, this kind of dialog, although it is not synchronous or face to face dialog, is essential to learning effectiveness. I found myself benefit most from this kind of distance courses.


I think structure is always important for distance education. The instructor must have a clear educational agenda in designing distance education. In my observation, structure is one of the main reasons that why many instructors resist to transfer their on-campus courses to distance. Distance courses require a thorough detailed course plan before delivering courses to learners while face-to-face instructors possess more freedom in how they deliver the course. Instructors do not want to spend additional efforts without payback.


I like being an online instructor and a distance learner because distance and structure give me opportunities to think before engaging in dialog.



What is the research method and tools that Saba used to find his dynamic relationship between structure and dialog?



Chapter 10


 Interesting Points:

Chapter 10 briefly presented the results and conclusions to research questions that have been studied regarding distance education. I am most interested in the question “What are the variables determining the effectiveness of distance education courses?” As an online instructor, the most challenging tasks for me currently is how to engage learners in learning in terms of responding to guided inquiries and on-going group work on time in discussion board. In additional, when the assignments submitted are not done well, how to provide feedback without hurting learners’ enthusiasm while indicating their defects clearly. Adult learners are playing multiple roles with multiple responsibilities in real life therefore, effectiveness of distance education courses is an issue that is essential to all participants, the instructor, the learner, and the administrators. I think it is also the key issue for student retention.

In page 246, the book discusses about technologies (e.g., audio, video, telephone, correspondence and simulation) that impact on distance education. I wonder why the author didn’t touch on social software (e.g. FaceBook, MySpace, SecondLife, YouTube, etc.) and hand-held devices (e.g., iPod, SmartPhone, etc) that are greatly influencing learning behavior. Is it because the author excludes social software and hand-held devices from technologies for formal distance education? Millions of adults have interacted with peers in MySpace or FaceBook. According to 2006 ECAR report from Educause, 73 percent of undergraduate students listen to iPod.  In 2007 Horizon report, social networking, including software and hardware, is one of the emerging technologies that influence education. Doesn’t that indicate the importance of social technology for distance education?



Chapter 11


Interesting Points:

Chapter 11 introduces current progress of distance education in different countries around the world. Since I have lived in China for 17 years, teaching in universities and writing books on related topics, the description about distance education in China drew my attention. From Moore’s book, readers will gain an impression that China has done very well in distance education. It might be true from the view of quantity but I will question on the story from the view of quality. As an employer, I knew, I and most, if not all, of high-ranking officers, would not hire a graduate from China Broadcast and Television University for skill works.


Another interesting point I found is about US universities are expanding their territories globally. It is very true. I have enjoyed participating in all kinds of distance programs. One of the courses I took from Harvard Graduate School of Education has 30 learners who were from 10 different countries including US, UK, Ireland, Canada, India, etc. It’s interesting to learners but challenging to educators. The biggest issue I experienced in the culturally diverse classes is that cultural diverse did influence on learning results because cultural diverse means different understanding on background knowledge about the discipline. Educators should not assume that all learners understand a term or a metaphor that is so obvious to local people. Educators should not assume that all learners possess the same perspective on particular philosophy, neither. When I briefly surveyed on culture diversity classes over the Internet, I found the topics discussed in those courses were very basic. This might be a problem when US universities are going global.

What impacts have globalization done on distance education in non-pedagogical areas?


Chapter 12


 Interesting Points:

Chapter 12 discusses about education reform. I, as a distance learners and instructor, have experienced the coming changes from my years of study and work.


Two distance education programs that I am enrolling have reported a 50%-100% growth during this year. The rapid expansion of scale has even caused difficulty in hardware capacity. In my opinion, three major drivers make distance education a promising model of college level education. First, technologies are much more user friendly than they were before. Shortened learning cycle encourage the involvement of participants. Secondly, tuition in higher education is raised every few years. In some countries, tuitions are double than 6-7 years ago. A middle-lower economic level family is getting difficult to support their children for college education. American students are fortune enough to enjoy finance aids from government but finance aids are still heavy burdens for many students from low-income families. Distance education offers the opportunities for them to work for their own tuitions without terminate their academic degree study. Thirdly, Life-long learning become a living style in the age of information economic partly because people need to continue learning to remain competitive and partly because baby boomer are more well-educated than last generation that make learning not only a serious activities but also an entertainment to them.


My friends and teachers in Taiwan told me, government is eager to promote web-based distance education but educators are not so enthusiasm. I use the individual performance model to discuss the barriers lying there:

1.       Motivation: Educators gain no credit for design and deliver distance courses. They are not paid for their additional effort; and their performances in distance education are not considered as official credits that required for raise.

2.       Skills & knowledge: Very few educators have basic skills and knowledge for deploying web-based courses. In addition, digital gaps make the communication between educators and technical staffs very frustrated.

3.       Environment: Educators are not used to work as a team. Even there are study groups, educators form the groups by similar discipline background not by different talents, e.g., artist, engineers, subject experts, project manager, etc. Design and deliver a distance education program require a team with can perform multiple functions.

4.       Organizational support: Lack of organization level strategies is a common issue in almost every city and every institution.


As Moore said in his book, we need more studies on factors and barriers, faculty training, emerging technologies, organization level policies, etc.

What is the major improvement on distance education policies in US?