01 Thumbnail The Evolution of Distance Learning

Edward F. Spodick
Hong Kong University of Science & Technology Library
Presented August, 1995 - links updated 31 January, 1996

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6. Problems and Challenges Of Distance Education

10 Thumbnail The acceleration in distance education brought on by the development of sophisticated computer network tools is pushing discussion and action on a variety of challenges faced by distance educators. Answers need to be worked out before the field is swamped in a morass of conflicting instructional and institutional directions.

6.1 Technological Literacy - Including Computer Literacy The target population will require training in the use of the tools, and so will the providers. Instructors will need focused training in order to make effective use of the technologies involved.

6.2 Program Evaluation and Accreditation Care must be take to ensure that distance education programs are as well developed as their in-house counterparts. Mechanisms need to be developed for faculty evaluation of programs originating at their institutions. There need to be standards for course evaluation and program accreditation. Successful programs need to be reevaluated before implementing them in a different cultural environment in this increasingly global village. (Mugridge 1991)

6.3 Losing the Content in the Technology There is a need to avoid simply providing information, rather than instruction; or of simply transmitting lectures through this new medium. This would be a disservice to the learners, and a reduction in content and functionality over the intended result. Avoid focusing on the technology rather than the instructional design and support (Douglas 1993)

6.4 Alienating Instructors Faculty should be involved in the whole process, and should understand that while one goal may be to reduce costs, this will not be at the expense of faculty jobs. Distance education technologies are not alternatives to teaching. Failing to address these issues can lead to significant faculty rejection of the proposals, and may include Union confrontation (DeLoughry 1995 - Distance learning...Maine)

6.5 Non-Native Language Instruction Many of the tools available, whether on the Internet or not, have severe limitations in their ability to accommodate non-native language instruction. 2-byte character systems like Chinese are especially problematic. This is slowly becoming less of an issue on the Internet as standards begin to coalesce. 11 Thumbnail

6.6 Institutional Support for Distance Learners Academic institutions must remember that course content is just one element of the education they provide. If distance learners are being sought, they will need to be provided with similar support to that received by on-campus users. This includes everything from full library support to academic counselling ¯ in addition to more mundane administrative assistance. (Jacobsen 1994)

6.7 Increasing Regional Focus It is not credible to expect that learners who are a dozen time zones apart will be interested in participating in live programs when they would normally be asleep. As interactive programs develop, we may see an increase in two alternatives. First, institutions seeking to market their educational products beyond their shores will offer sessions tailored to the needs of students in specific areas. Second, regional consortia or education hubs may begin to form. There is a danger of becoming isolated from the more global learning environment. In most cases there will be benefit in designing programs which include challenge and stimulation, and which involve the learner in discussion and collaboration with those outside their immediate circle of fellow 'classmates'.

6.8 Copyright Issues While few researchers raise the issue explicitly, all are aware that many questions of copyright in an electronic environment remain unanswered. It is important to examine the goals and intentions of the program, and make sure that the necessary clearances have been obtained as needed.


Go Back 5. The Internet - Changes in Tools and Toolmaking
Go Forward 7. Conclusion


last revised 5 March, 1996
this page is maintained by Ed Spodick
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