College Distance Education Courses: Evaluating Benefits and Costs from Institutional, Faculty and Students' Perspectives

Article excerpt

Introduction

Distance education refers to technology-based instruction in which students are at a location physically separated from their instructor during the entire course of study (Simonson et al., 2003; Ormrod, 2008). Distance education through web-based learning is a concept that is relatively new to modern educational practices. It is a method of learning outside of a typical classroom environment. Initially, distance education was created for students who were unable to attend school. Prior to all technological advancements, distance education, in the form of "pure" correspondence study, was created to give those students a chance to study who could not attend ordinary school or university due to social, medical, financial, or geographical reasons (Holmberg, 1977). This web-based form of instruction allows instructors to reach a much larger audience and encourages more flexibility with student's schedule.

Web-based teaching and learning are changing the face of higher education and rapidly working at a frenzied pace to develop the skills needed to instruct in an online environment (Boettcher and Conrad, 1999). Moving from the classroom as the primary center of organized instruction to the web changes how educators approach instructional design. Advances in teaching and learning in a web environment have brought new curiosities, excitement, and challenges to educators (Boettcher and Conrad, 1999).

While online learning at the college level has grown at an astonishing pace, it has done so in ways that no one predicted (Doyle, 2009). Total student enrollment in distance education courses went from 754,000 in 1995 to 1.6 million in 1998 (Harasim, 2000), and over 3 million students enrolled in distance courses in the 2000-2001 academic year (Waits and Lewis, 2003). By fall 2007, 3.9 million students were taking at least one online course (Doyle, 2009). According to some educators, higher education has been revolutionized.

Presently, distance education has never been so popular. A large, diverse group of students comprise the target audience of distance education. Regardless of their demographic backgrounds and academic disciplines, students all over the globe are embracing these educational resources. While there are many benefits of distance education, many drawbacks go hand-in-hand with these emerging technologies. Administrators, faculty, and students can embrace these technologies in distance learning, but must be aware of all its drawbacks and educational implications. The objective of this article is to evaluate distance education from institutional, faculty, and students' perspectives. We provide insight on both benefits and costs associated with college distance education courses.

Benefits of Distance Education for Institutions

There are major benefits of distance education from an institutional perspective. By now, it is obvious to most educators in higher education that distance-learning technology is transforming instructional delivery in profound ways (DeNeui and Dodge, 2006). They (2006) state that the most significant online technological development is the way that the former constraint of time and space has largely been removed by networking capabilities. Though not all instructors teach distance education courses, few can deny that online technology is transforming the way students learn and the way instructors teach (DeNeui and Dodge, 2006).

Even in the midst of a major budget crisis, colleges and universities still embrace the same educational mission and philosophy: to educate its students (Gould, 2003). While not a panacea, online courses allow institutions to maximize their available resources to meet the educational needs of their students (Gould, 2003). Online courses can reach a much larger audience, with students from greater geographic regions than traditional classroom courses. Online courses may help disabled and geographically isolated students, as well as students with busy schedules obtain quality higher education. …