Distance Education Design: The Importance of Designing Interaction and Activity into the Course

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Distance education often is considered to be a new style or new way of learning and with that new style the thought is that there should be a new method to teach. In fact, distance education should only be considered a new vehicle for the learner to receive the content. Clark states it well, "The best current evidence is that media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition" (Clark, 2001). The way the learner processes the content is no different than when they are engaged in a regular face-to-face course.

With this new "vehicle" the design of the distance education course has to take into consideration the fact that the course will not have the same methods to engage the learner as does a face-to-face course. Several ideas will be discussed, why interaction should be incorporated into distance learning, detailing the learning styles that need interaction, as well as various types of interaction that could be incorporated throughout distance education courses.

WHY INCORPORATE INTERACTION?

A common misconception is that since a computer is used in distance learning the interaction is already incorporated. This is far from the truth; with the lack of face-toface interaction due to learning from a distance, the interaction needs to be more purposeful and designed. It has been demonstrated that a highly interactive course leads to a more successful outcome. Consider this: "Researchers have determined that highly effective virtual teaching requires a highly interactive classroom (Cavanaugh et al., 2005; Friend & Johnson, 2005; Zucker & Kozma, 2003). Distancelearning research indicates that this instructor-learner interaction is the most important ingrethent in student success" (Cavanaugh et al., 2009). It is important to also take into consideration all aspects of the learning process as well as the way various learners' process and analyze information.

Simpson and Du also found that learning style was a significant predictor of course enjoyment. "Assimilators," who preferred abstract conceptualization and reflective observation, got the greatest satisfaction from their online courses. "Convergers," who preferred abstract conceptualization and active experimentation, got the least enjoyment from their online courses. Simpson and Du also noted that Assimilators made the fewest posts to online forums, while Convergers made the most. (Brown-Syed, Adkins, & Tsai, 2005)

Research has shown that student interaction is a key factor in the overall satisfaction of an online course. This interaction is supported in many facets including student-teacher interaction and student-peer interaction. Chang and Smith (2008) note that "According to Perez's (2001) research, many students reported that the main disadvantage of distance education was a lack of personal interaction between the instructor and the students" (p. 407). If a learner feels they have a disadvantage due to lack of interaction the end result will be a decreased perception of quality of their educational opportunity. This perception could lead to a decrease in the quality of education for the learner. For example, "In Rost's (2000) research regarding distance education, online instructors utilized forms of technology that lacked personal interaction, decreasing the quality of education" (Chang & Smith, 2009, p. 407). Involvement on the part of the instructor goes a long way toward the satisfaction of the course as well as the overall success of a course. The interaction can be carried out in many forms, but maintaining a real presence with the learner is crucial for that learner to feel engaged and part of a group.

Chang and Smith (2008) state that new techniques must be constructed that make time for students to interact, because personal interaction between teachers and students, students and students, and students and course content directly relates to student course satisfaction. …