Introduction and Concepts in Distance learning

What is distance learning

Explanation of Various Terms.

Glossary of Web Based learning


Practical self experience with Distance Learning?

Difference between Distance Education and Correspondence Courses

 Can skill oriented courses be covered by DE?

Technologies used in distant education

Instructional Qualities for Web Based Learning

Challenges of Web-based Learning

DE in providing medical education to non traditional students

Teacher and student qualities for distance education

Assignment - Preparation of Distance Learning Module

Evaluation of Distance Learning

Advantages and Disadvantages of e-Learning

Famous quotes

Discussion end- Compliments from Sir & Friends

Summary - Distance Learning


Challenges of Web-based Learning

   Web-based learning is not without problems. For example, start-up costs for an organization or educational institution can be significant, encompassing servers, cabling and other hardware, as well as software and technical support. Further, technology, despite all its advances, can still be troublesome. Web-based learning systems require consistent upgrading, as new software and hardware is developed. Lastly, technology also has limitations. Bandwidth and browser availability may restrict instructional methodologies, as an organization with limited bandwidth may experience slow performance for sound, video, and graphics.
   From an instructor perspective, maintaining a web-based course can require significant amounts of time. Considerable time is spent keeping a course site updated, responding to emails, phone call and other information, in addition to the normal instructor tasks (Zirkle, 2000). Further, web-based courses may not be as interactive as instructor-led courses. Thus, the absence of an instructor may encourage some students to slacken their efforts, and they might not push themselves as hard as they might with a "live" instructor in front of them (Heckler, 1999).
   Students may face special challenges with web-based coursework. Many feel isolated from other learners, frustrated by poor flows of communication, and confused, as a result of feedback that is not always clear (Ryan, Carlton and Ali, 1999). Also, certain skills, such as those involving psychomotor skill development, can be difficult to learn via web-based applications (Zirkle, 2000).

Pre-Course Learner Issues
   Many learners enroll in web-based courses without realizing the
degree of technical expertise that is needed to function effectively. The ability to navigate the Internet, download, open and save documents is essential. Students must be competent and feel comfortable with the computer and associated software. Learning to use a computer and attempting to learn course content at the same time is not recommended.
   Related to user competence is the issue of hardware and software availability. Students must have an adequate computer, with requisite software. While accessing the course through a neighbor's computer, or the local library, may be acceptable, the best situation is for the student to have continual access to a computer with which he/she is familiar.
   Some students will need to assess their own personal learning
style before taking a web-based course. Many students do not function without the structure an "in-person" class can provide. Without the organization of a scheduled class, with regular meeting times, many students may struggle.
   Finally, despite the "any time, any place" paradigm of web-based learning, many students still feel specific time constraints with their courses. Many web-based students are "non-traditional" learners - older adults looking for new skills, or single parents trying to get a degree in between the competing interests of family and job responsibilities. Web-based courses still have assignments and due dates, and many students, tempted by the seemingly self-paced nature of the courses, may fall behind.

Pre-Course Instructor/Trainer Issues
   Many instructors of web-based courses perform a pre-instructional analysis, which attempts to gather specific information about learners, their resources, and what barriers might exist to successful completion of the course. This information may prove useful in structuring the course objectives, content, assignments and evaluation
   Instructors would also benefit from providing learners with an
orientation session of some type, either in person or online, that
describes how the course will function and gives the learners
information on course navigation. Doing this "up-front" will save
countless explanations later. Course outcomes need to be detailed, along with communication protocols, i.e., how students will communicate with the instructor.
   Finally, instructors need to determine technology selection. What software will be used? Will audio or videostreaming be utilized? Will supplemental CD-ROMS be provided to the students? This selection may need to be made in concert with the pre-instructional analysis, in which information was gathered about student capabilities. While having the latest technological programming as part of a web-based course is always inviting, it does no good if students' abilities and equipment availability render it unusable. By gathering this information before the course begins, the instructor still has time to look for an acceptable alternative, if necessary.

Learner Issues after the course begins
   Perhaps the most widely cited student complaint with web-based courses is a feeling of isolation (Fast, 1995; Galusha, 1998; Hilleshiem, 1999; Rosenberg, 2001; Zielinski, 2000; Zirkle and Ourand, 1999). Students do not feel a part of a scholarly community that is traditionally associated with a structured on-campus classroom. 

  Related to isolation is interaction. Web-based courses may limit
the extent to which students can reflectively engage in conversation with their classmates. Most students learn from each other, as well as the instructor, and ways must be found to tap into that expertise. The amount and timeliness of feedback is of great importance to the learner. The quality and integrity of the educational process depends on sustained, two-way communication between students and faculty (Hillesheim, 1998). Most students, particularly older adults, need continual feedback with respect to their academic performance in a class. The lack of eye-to-eye contact and the ability to discuss student issues on a face-to face basis may only exacerbate the problem (Zirkle and Ourand, 1999)

Instructor/Trainer Issues after the course begins
   In most online training, the trainee only interacts with the
computer (Industry Report, 2000). Instructors must give opportunities for students to interact with each other, as well as the instructor.
Feedback must be timely, frequent and constructive (Galusha, 1998). Keeping "in touch" with learners is important. Students in web-based courses have the potential to disappear, often for weeks at a time.
   Obviously, keeping the course site current is a requirement.
Information regarding the course, such as lecture notes, assignments, and other documents, needs to be removed as it becomes dated. If a course site has an online gradebook, it must be kept up to date. Students will pick up on the fact that a course has not been regularly maintained, and it can influence their level of motivation and interest in the course.

Handling these Challanges

   The issues of isolation, feedback and interaction can be addressed through effective communication and discussion. These can be made available through synchronous (students are online simultaneously or in "real-time") methods, or asynchronous (not real-time). Common synchronous methods include chat sessions and video and audio conferencing. While this method offers immediate communication, synchronous methods can be difficult to implement, as they may require more sophisticated end-user equipment and a high-speed Internet connection. Instructors may find it challenging to schedule convenient
times for all students to participate, due to work and/or family
commitments, or students may be in different time zones.
   Asynchronous instruction does not require the simultaneous
participation of all students and instructors and thus is more
flexible than synchronous instruction. While not offering immediate communication, asynchronous instruction allows students more time to respond to posted comments and questions, and generally does not have the same level of technical expertise and equipment that synchronous
instruction requires. Methods for use in a web-based course may
include email, listservs, and discussion boards.

A Note About Collaboration
   Instructors may feel web-based learning hinders the collaborative and social aspects of learning. However, learning can be enhanced when technology is used to directly link students to each other.
Information exchange can occur through cooperative activities such as group assignments and case study discussions. By allowing technology to be the vehicle for collaboration, learners get a bonus: they are enhancing their technical computing skills while learning course content to complete a course assignment.

Designing an Effective Course - Some Suggestions
   A recent web-based student described his course experience as an "electronic correspondence course" (Zirkle, in-press). When
instructors in web-based courses simply post notes in written form, along with assignments, and provide little else, the course becomes uninteresting and static, indiscernible from traditional
correspondence courses. Instructors must look for ways to provide interaction and communication between instructor and student as well as among the students in the class.
   Many students grew up under the "television" mentality. They are accustomed to paying attention for 15 minutes, taking a "commercial" break, then paying attention again. Two-hour audio/video streams of lectures, or marathon chat sessions are likely to burn students out. Keep the content rigorous, but short. Time "slices" of material of 15-20 minutes in duration are recommended.
   Make every bit of downloaded information important (Black, 1998)-are extra graphics needed for enhanced learning? Some graphics take considerable time to download. If they provide little in the way of added learning, they may not be necessary. Don't use technology just to impress. Using multimedia is acceptable only if students will  be able to access it easily from their vantage point. If the material being produced is very complex, viewing may be more tedious than helpful (Ko and Rossen, 2001).
   By using discussion boards, chat, audio/video streaming and
interactive class assignments, instructors have a better chance of
addressing the multitude of learning styles that exist in every
classroom. Offering a variety of presentation forms gains and
maintains student attention and motivation (Mory, Gambill and
Browning, 1998). To put it simply, many learners benefit from seeing and hearing lecture notes, not just reading them.
   Communicating course expectations, grades on assignments and other course information through web-based methods can be delicate. Wording on an email or edited assignment, without a verbal explanation, can be misinterpreted. Instructors should provide clear directions and take care to avoid ambiguous instructions. For example, step-by-step instructions on how to complete an assignment, while tedious to write, may save having to repeat various iterations of the same set of instructions to five different students in five different emails.
   The use of readily available software and plug-ins is imperative.
Many "readers" (a software program that enables the user to open a file but not alter it) , such as those for Word or Powerpoint, are available for a free download through Microsoft. RealPlayer offers free software to play audio and video files encoded by various audio and video streaming programs. Requiring students to purchase and use specific software should be justified.
   Web-based learners need avenues for remediation and tutoring, just like traditional, on-campus learners. Instructors should be prepared to provide telephone consultation, on-campus office visits, online chat sessions, or other methods in order to assist their students with course issues.
   The purging of dated information, simple as it sounds, is a step
some instructors overlook. Many forget material stays on the Internet or a course site until it is removed. Course material left online from last semester only serves to confuse students and will likely result in unneeded emails to the instructor.
   Finally, make certain the course is browser-neutral and use the
lowest common denominator when posting information. For example, when posting documents, it may be useful to utilize a file format such as Rich Text Format (RTF), which can be opened by a variety of word processing programs, rather than utilizing a specific word processing program that students may not have or causes translation problems.