Session 1

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Distance Education and Instructional Design


Home | Preface and Introduction | Distance Education and Instructional Design | Understanding Distance Learners | Foundations of Self-Learning Materials | Course Design | Preparing Structure of a Unit | Writing Introduction and Objectives | Content Presentation | Preparing Activities | End Matters | Finalizing Your Unit | References | Templates

The Concept of Distance Education

The history of distance education can be traced back to the year 1728, when ‘The Boston Gazette’ (dated March 20) published an advertisement that offered to teach shorthand through post (Holmberg, 1986). Distance teaching at the university level probably started with the establishment of the University of South Africa in 1946. However, the establishment of the British Open University (known as the United Kingdom Open University) in 1969 is attributed to be the theoretical ‘Big Bang’ of distance education that fought and won acceptance and wider recognition of this system of teaching and learning. Today, there are large number of single-mode distance teaching institutions (such as the UKOU, IGNOU), distance teaching centres in regular universities teaching through face-to-face mode (such as CDE, University of Hyderabad, SOL, University of Delhi, and many others), online universities (such as Tamil Virtual University, University of Phoenix, Jones International University, etc.), consortia (e.g. Open Universities Australia, Open University of Malaysia), and corporate universities (primarily for in-house training). These institutions use a variety of modes and media to deliver instruction, and use distance education as their all-inclusive phrase. Some are dependent on only correspondence mode, while others use instructional videos television and/or the Internet heavily. Thus, in the world of distance education we find different generations existing at the same time. Interestingly within one institution, different programmes may be in different generations (see Table 1 for five generations of Distance Education). So, what is distance education?

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What is distance Education?

Write your own definition of distance education.
Identify the key elements/ characteristics of distance education from your definition.

Most of us having considerable experience in the face-to-face system, may have responded that distance education is ‘a mode of teaching-learning mediated through correspondence’ or in other words ‘the student and the teacher never meet, and teaching and learning takes place at different place and time’. However, distance education as we see it today is much more complex, and Desmond Keegan (1990) provides us a set of five defining elements:

  • the quasi-permanent separation of teacher and learner throughout the length of the learning process;
  • the quasi-permanent absence of the learning group throughout the length of the learning process;
  • the influence of an organization to organize learning experiences through preparation of learning materials and provision of support services;
  • the provision of two-way communication to encourage and enable the students to interact with teachers and a peer group; and
  • the use of technical media (print, audio, video, computers) to unite teacher and learners.

Overall, these five elements represent the ‘industrialization’ of teaching, and ‘privatization’ of the learning process. The five elements can be applied to all the five generations (Taylor, 2001) of distance education. In the Indian context, many erstwhile Correspondence Course Institutes (CCIs) have changed their name to Directorate of Distance Education (DDE) without any change in their internal operations. Moreover, another important aspect is the nature of the learning materials supplied to the learners by these CCIs. Though the materials are prepared for the distance learners, often these are not always designed to facilitate learning at a distance without the support of a face-to-face intermediary. To transform the correspondence lessons into distance learning materials, instructional design is important.

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Generations of distance education.

In which generation of distance education do you place your own institution? Give clear illustrations in support of your view.

Research Says...

  • Phipps & Merisotis (1999) after a review of over 40 contemporary original research reports on the effectiveness of distance learning in higher education concluded that although the overall quality of the original research is questionable most of the studies covered in the study concluded that “regardless of the technology used, distance learning courses compare favourably with classroom-based instruction and enjoy high student satisfaction” (p.3).
  • Bernard et al (2004) in a meta-analysis of 232 studies between 1985 and 2002 found wide variability and concluded that “a substantial number of DE applications provide better achievement results, are viewed more positively, and have higher retention rates than their classroom counterparts. On the other hand, a substantial number of DE applications are far worse than classroom instruction” (p.406). After taking synchronous DE and asynchronous DE into account, the meta-analysis showed more interesting results:

(a) In comparison to achievements in classroom, a small significant negative effect was found for synchronous DE, and a significant positive effect was found for asynchronous DE.
(b) Attitudes favoured the classroom instruction.
(c) In terms of retention, classroom instruction was favoured, but synchronous DE also received a small positive effect though not significant. Asynchronous DE received a larger negative effect for retention.
Overall, they concluded, “classroom instruction and DE are comparable” (p. 416).

Table 1: Five Generations of Distance Education
Generations: Models Use of Media and Technologies
First Generation:The Correspondence Model
  • Print
Second Generation:The Multimedia Model
  • Print
  • Audiotape
  • Videotape
  • Computer-based Learning
  • Interactive Video disc
Third Generation:The Tele-learning Model
  • Audio-teleconferencing
  • Video-teleconferencing
  • Audio-graphics communication
  • Broadcast TV
  • Interactive Radio/ Radio Phone-in
Fourth Generation:The Flexible Learning Model
  • Interactive Multimedia Online
  • Internet-based access to WWW resources
  • Computer-mediated Communication
Fifth Generation:The Intelligent Flexible Learning Model
  • Interactive Multimedia Online
  • Internet-based access to WWW resources
  • Computer-mediated Communication, using automated response systems
  • Campus portal access to institutional processes and resources

Instructional Design or Development?

The origin of instructional design has been traced to World War II, when a large number of psychologists and educators were called in to conduct research and develop training materials for the military services (Dick, 1897, cited in Reiser, 2001). Later on the development of programmed instruction succeeded in creating an effective self-instructional system. Over the years, instructional design has been viewed and defined differently by many scholars. Though initially started for the development of training materials, there are about 15 different models of instructional design available today for use in a classroom as well as for the development of learning materials. The terminology too is inconsistent, and some even prefer to use instructional development in place of instructional design (Gustafson & Branch, 2002). Seels and Richey (1994) use the term instructional systems design and define it as “an organized procedure that includes the steps of analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating instruction” (p.31). Whatever model of instructional design we follow, some common features characterize it:

  • Analysis of the environment, learners and tasks
  • Designing of a plan for developing instruction
  • Development of instructional activities
  • Implementation of the design
  • Evaluation of learner performance and effectiveness of the design (Anagnostopoulo, 2002).

Instructional design is important for both face-to-face and distance education systems. Organizing a programme of study without instructional design is to invite failure. Interestingly, as we can see in the ADDIE above, instructional design is carried out as a process; and Romiszowski (1982) elaborates on the four levels of instructional design emphasizing that in the process of instructional design the teacher is often just one member of the team. The four levels of instructional design are:

  1. Level 1: The ‘course’ level with many objectives to achieve in the course (often it is the curriculum level decisions)
  2. Level 2: The ‘lesson’ level, where the course structure becomes clear with each lesson having specific outcomes (often part of the syllabus design)
  3. Level 3: The ‘instructional event’ level, where each objectives of the lesson is detailed out sequentially (often called lesson plan)
  4. Level 4: The ‘learning step’ level, where each instructional event is planned and written in some script or self-instructional material (often the last implementation part of the process)

Most of the times in the face-to-face context, teachers are involved at level 3 and 4 for instructional design. In distance education many of us are involved in all the four levels, though the emphasis of this Work-book is on the last two levels.
Instructional design within the scope of its ‘design’ and ‘development’ steps demands selection of appropriate media and development of learning materials in various formats. Although in practical reality we are left with little choice by the academic bureaucracy in deciding the use of distance education media, it is useful to look rationally into the use of appropriate media before taking the plunge to use distance education. In order to decide whether or not distance education is a viable option, we propose a six-step approach (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Flow-chart for Decision Making

Ask these QUESTIONS and follow the flow-chart for deciding on use of distance education.

  1. Can you provide sensory (visual, aural, kinesthetic, olfactory, tactile) information if needed using DE methods?
  2. Can you organize interaction between students and teachers?
  3. Is immediate feedback necessary, and can you arrange for it using media?
  4. Can DE methods deliver the achievement of learning objectives for the knowledge domain?
  5. Can DE methods achieve the necessary KSA?
  6. Can the course/ programme serve for 5-6 years and attract about 5000 students to achieve economies of scale?

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Is distance education appropriate for my course?

List the Knowledge-Skills-Attitude (KSA) components of your course.
Go through the six questions and the flow chart (Fig.1) below to consider whether distance education is useful to you or not.