A Comparison of Distance Education Instructional Methods in Occupational Therapy

Article excerpt

The progression of technology is rapidly bringing new opportunities to students and academic institutions, resulting in a need for additional information to determine the most effective strategies for teaching distance learners. The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of three instructional strategies (two-way interactive video and audio, chat rooms, and independent learning) and student preferences regarding instructional methods in a mental health programming distance learning course. Precourse and postcourse surveys were completed by 22 occupational therapy students enrolled in the course. Effectiveness of the teaching methods was determined based on the results of students' examinations. The findings indicated that there were no statistically significant differences in student performance on multiple-choice examinations using the three instructional methods. Of students, 77% indicated a preference for two-way interactive video and audio instruction. To provide effective education via distance learning methods, faculty members need to structure assignments that facilitate interaction and communication among learners. As distance education becomes more commonplace, it is important to identify the methods of instruction that are the most effective in delivering essential course content and the methods that provide the atmosphere most conducive to learning. J Allied Health. 2002; 31:247-251.

DISTANCE EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES are expanding rapidly as new technology is developed. Learners who previously were unable to access educational opportunities because of distance now have many options through distance education programs. The Internet, computers, e-mail, and two-way compressed audio and video communication are being used for educational purposes.1 Because technologies affect the method of educational delivery, educators need to be receptive to the use of these tools in meeting the needs of distance learners. It is important to understand the process of developing, implementing, and participating in a distance education course, which requires greater planning and organization on the part of students and faculty.2

The Medical College of Georgia (MCG), located in Augusta, Georgia, began a distance education curriculum in summer 1999 at a satellite campus in Columbus, Georgia, located in the western part of the state. Although Columbus has approximately 182,000 residents,3 the surrounding area is considered rural and has been underserved by occupational therapists for many years. To meet the need in this area, the MCG Department of Occupational Therapy (OT) used distance education options to provide occupational therapy education in rural Georgia. The Augusta campus has a long-standing history of quality education and already had established clinical, administrative, and alumni resources in the Columbus area.

This study was designed to analyze the effects of three distance learning methods on the outcomes of student performance in a distance learning course. It also gathered information regarding the students' experiences and preferred learning method for application of content in case studies using these methods. An additional focus was to identify key issues that need to be addressed in structuring distance education opportunities for the entry-level OT student.

Literature Review

The literature supports the use of distance education in many professions. In OT, distance education technologies have been used in advanced degree programs and continuing education courses.4,5 Less information is published regarding entry-level OT education.6 Other health care disciplines including physician assistant, physical therapy, and emergency medical technology, have used distance education strategies with entry-level training.2,7,8

Technologies often used in distance education programs include two-way interactive video and audio systems and computer-mediated conferencing. …