Distance Education at the 67 Land-Grant Colleges in the United States and the Adult Learner

Article excerpt

This national survey examined the nature of distance education at the 67 land-grant institutions in the United States as perceived by selected administrators. Several dimensions of distance learning including definitions and the available support services were examined. Data showed that in general: 1) administrators held several definitions for distance education; 2) a variety of services exist to support learners and faculty; 3) distance education has developed into an important element in the missions of universities and colleges; and 4) management of distance learning is a responsibility of individual colleges or departments offering distance learning.

Distance learning has become an important element in the American education system. The evidence of this significant development is found in the increasing rate of learning that is occurring outside the traditional educational environment (Charp, 1998). Several factors have contributed to the noted growth in popularity of distance learning in recent years. Demographic changes, technological revolution, and a changing global economy are some of the contributing reasons (Gary & Kathleen, 1994). These factors coupled with information age have created a need for further learning that is geared towards acquiring new skills, polishing old ones or both. Thankfully distance education is becoming increasingly accessible to learners seeking learning opportunities. Adult learners who may find it difficult to fit in a regular traditional classroom are finding distance learning to be such a valuable resource. As a result a large number of adults throughout American are either enrolled in distance learning or have expressed a desire to participate in distance education (Gibson, 1992), a phenomenon that is likely to grow.

Distance education is benefiting adult learners particularly well because unlike traditional learners they experience a variety of hindrances that sometimes discourages them from enrolling in traditional on-campus programs. Gibson (1992) cited areas such as employment conditions, travel assignments, advanced age, poor health conditions, and geographical inaccessible areas as some barriers faced by a great majority of adults in the United States. In the presence of distance education these situations may no longer dictate how and when adult learners will enroll in learning opportunities. Distance instruction is making it increasingly possible for adult learners throughout America to access the desired learning opportunities without having to leave their residence (Gibson, 1992). This phenomenon will most likely continue to grow as the American economy and lifestyles continue to evolve. This being the case, it is important for educators to investigate how the institutions delivering distance education are carrying out this important responsibility.

This national study focused on this issue by examining the nature of distance learning from the viewpoint of administrators at the 67 land-grant colleges in the United States. These institutions are historically charged with the responsibility of implementing distance learning in the nation. For purposes of this study distance education was defined as courses or instructional programs that are taught outside the main institution either by the use of technology or faculty travel to instructional sites away from the main campus. Although this study did not specifically focus on adult learners, the researcher has attempted to delineate the possible ways in which adult learners could benefit from distance education offered through the land-grant colleges.

Method

Participants

The population for this study was two administrators from each of the 67 land-grant institutions. These administrators were in charge of the general academic affairs (central administrators) and the university extension services. University extension administrators are usually responsible for the general administration of distance education at the land-grant colleges. …