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Distance learning: sinners, repent?

Distance learning is a sin.

Flamebait, ahoy! Please discuss.

  • 1. What were your experiences, if any, with distance education?

  • 2. Did you use it as a student, as an instructor, or both?

  • 3. Are you using it now? Voluntarily or involuntarily so?

  • 4. Given the chance, would you use it again? Would you promote, reform, or abolish it as an insructional technology?

  • 5. What do you see as the primary pros and cons of systems such as Tegrity, Wimba, Microsoft LiveMeeting, etc.?

  • 6. Does the licensing mechanism (e.g., MIT OpenCourseWare) matter?

  • 7. What is your opinion of a degree earned by a distance learning student, all other things (GPA, curriculum, etc.) being equal? Can other things be equal?

Here's the context: zengeneral and I have been talking about general experiences with students, past and present, and with classroom technologies. His argument is based on the well-travelled premise that a university campus experience consists of at least four elements:

  • Curriculum: course material, content that is available locally or online

  • Instructors: faculty, staff, teaching assistants, coordinators

  • Peers: classmates, competition, cameraderie, esprit de corps

  • Environment: the resources (especially libraries), the culture, the society

Though we disagree as to the overall conclusion (zengeneral advocates the abolution of distance learning), the above is common ground. There are tradeoffs made with respect to curriculum and instructor communication: fewer available courses for distance learning students of some universities, more flexible hours and more individual attention. Note that "tutorial" attention can be a pro with respect to student satisfaction, but a con with respect to "learned helplessness". I've never been a big fan of spoon-feeding.

zengeneral asserts that it is in the categories of peers and environment where students tend to take a hit. With this I generally concur, though I think that in the ideal case, which we are approaching asymptotically, these limitations can be technologically overcome - more readily so than deficiencies of content (curriculum and instruction).

Your opinions?



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 22nd, 2005 03:57 pm (UTC)
Universities haven't been around forever, so obviously people have been learning without them for a while. Though I agree that those four elements are extremely important for a career in Academia or as a research scientist outside of Academia, if you only plan to climb Corporate America's ladders, distance education is an accepted method of education for many employers. Ultimately it all boils down to what you plan to do with the education.
Sep. 23rd, 2005 04:02 pm (UTC)
University education
True, but part of the premise of the question is that it is addressed to collegiate students. I'm taking it as a given that the subject matter one wishes to study using distance education is at the college or university level. Certainly this is not always the case, but that's where I'm coming from.

Sep. 23rd, 2005 04:09 pm (UTC)
Re: University education
Yeah, I wasn't thinking of high school students or certification exams or fake diplomas. The first statement was just there for the sake of showing that the bullets aren't necessary to receive an education. And I was thinking more along the lines of accredited institutions like the University of Phoenix Online that offer MBAs (as a popular example).
Sep. 22nd, 2005 04:36 pm (UTC)
I had a class that was partially online. The cons were that I occasionally missed things that scrolled by in the open chats, and without body language, one does miss meanings sometimes.

On the other hand, I was really, REALLY relieved not to drive 90 minutes after a full day of work just to turn in papers and pick up a new assignment.

Therefore, even though I would miss out on the interactions with other students, given half a chance I would take a fully-online set of classes just to spare myself the lost travel time and gas prices, considering them adequate reimbursement for what I was giving up.
Sep. 22nd, 2005 06:51 pm (UTC)
i have done traditional distance learning (though, not since high school), and i have done "regular" classwork with required internet-based interaction, and i have done internet-based coursework, and (of course), i have done traditional classwork.

of the options, i honestly had more interaction with my fellow students as a whole with the high-internet component coursework (beit mailing lists for everyone's use or something like webct's forums).

for the most part, traditional classes don't have very many opportunities to interact on a consistent basis with other individuals - and those that i've had that did tended to have required out-of-class, professor-assigned groups. because my engineering department was HUGE and i wasn't on the "recommended" graduation plan, i rarely had classes with the same people, and when i did, there had been so little interaction that i didn't know them well enough to gauge if they'd be acceptable study partners. and when i DID have study partners, we rarely discussed the content of the class in more broad terms (usually, it was specific things we were working on or were having issues understanding)

with the internet components, there was this great actual *discussion* on the subject matter. linking it to real world applications, linking it to theory, linking it to philocophy. i have to say, i understood those classes to a greater level than the traditional classes.

while the all-focused-on-academics environment is hard to replicate, most of the other environmental factors are really non-existant. between things like scholar and other meta search engines, goldrush and other online publications, and the more traditional library and their exchanges, the resources to outside knowledge are roughly equivalent. sure, you may have to wait an extra two or three days to get that book on why escher liked black paint (or whatever esoteric thing that municipal libraries may not have), but books can travel, and journal articles be found online (either in full text or purchasable) or copied or travel.

for me, the hardest part about the distance ed classes is that i'm a audio/visual thinker & learner. it's very hard for me to explain what i'm having problems with or to understand what's going on without the aid of pictures and diagrams and graphs and charts. as far as note-taking is concerned, that's usually not a problem (and in fact, the non-real time distance learning courses are great that way because i had the opportunity to rewind if i missed something being said because i was focusing on what was being written), but trying to explain how you're nto *seeing* things verbally in emails, even when they're explaining it over and over, is very frustrating - and ultimately, i'd end up going over to their office (during office hours or by appointment) to get that straightened out. of course, that's a problem with traditional classes, but usually in those cases, it's easier to go find the prof or ta to get things hammered out :)
Sep. 22nd, 2005 10:17 pm (UTC)
Whilst I have courses done in college setting, I've actually completed two courses by Distance Education.

The first course was Payroll Administration.
There was one weekend where you had the opportunity to meet up with other students but I was unable to make that. I had no problems with the course, the college were there for any questions I rang about and the course notes I received were very well laid out and written. I was doing this job on a dail basis for about 2 years before I went about having a qualification in it.

The second course was Local Government Studies.
There were four tutorials held over the year and you had to attend at least 3 of them to be allowed sit the final exam. You also had to complete an assignment each time. There were a few of us in my employment doing this together and it never felt like you were studying alone.

While I like the fact it let me work at my pace and allow for periods where I needed to adjust my study schedule.

However, for a course where maybe I would not have as much prior knowledge I would definitely prefer a more structured sessions and timetable. It does help hearing other people's view points and questions, it certainly make you think more. And it offers more motivation.

If I was offered a course now and a choice on which mode of study I would prefer, it would definitely be classroom based.
Sep. 22nd, 2005 11:55 pm (UTC)
not yet....
I haven't actually done any distance learning as of yet, though I am currently considering it. I was thinking of doing my Masters in Library Science online. I really have no desire to go back to school physically while I'm trying to work full time.

I don't see anything wrong with distance learning, I think it opens up opportunities for people who are already in the workforce. Most of the people I know who have done online courses have been either trying to finish up an abandoned degree or working on a Masters.

I don't think it is the best way to go for all learning. I'm very happy that I actually went to college for 4 years, it was fun and I loved it and I think everyone should have the experience of working with people, because you will have to work with people someday!
Sep. 23rd, 2005 01:37 am (UTC)
1) There's undoubtedly a lot lost in a distance-learning environment

2) Some of my regular lecture courses have an online forum where students can participate in discussions. Sometimes, those discussions get quite interesting. Certainly more and better interaction than you normally get among students in a giant lecture class.

3) Can distance-learning actually be WORSE than no learning at all?
Sep. 23rd, 2005 03:11 am (UTC)
Worked for me
Tegrity has a low bandwith option where you can hear the goings-on, like the professor explaining the stuff and handling questions while the slides are shown in another window. I found this option very useful. Having a video feed of the professor delivering the lecture didn't add much.

It gave me the best of both worlds: I took the class at my convenience + I caught the nuances/gotchas of the subject by not missing out on the questions asked in class.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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