The quality and effectiveness of distance education as a means of training and developing teachers is much debated and doubted. This points to a need for sound research and evaluation evidence to inform the debate. This chapter summarizes findings so far and appraises the evidence available. It also offers a framework for judging quality and for planning the evaluation of distance education programmes for teacher education.
Empirical research on the effectiveness of distance education programmes for teachers is sparse (see Chale 1983; Mählck and Temu 1989; Dock et al. 1988; Nielsen and Tatto 1991; Murphy and Zhiri 1992; Tatto et al. 1991; Perraton 1993; Murphy and Robinson 1996; Bosch 1997; Creed 2001; Perraton et al. 2001). This is partly because it is mostly funded separately and in addition to funding the programme itself, usually from donors or agencies external to the provider unless undertaken as an institutional evaluation or quality assurance activity. Some of the more substantial empirical studies (such as Dock et al. 1989; Mählck and Temu 1989 and Nielsen and Tatto 1991) were carried out in the 1980s and there is a shortage of more recent ones. This may be due to the amount of effort or resource needed, especially for a comparative study and if attempting to evaluate training effects on a teacher's performance (see Box 10.1). These kinds of studies 'demand intensive work on the ground and a greater commitment to evaluation than many authorities have felt able to give. For the most part, therefore, we have to rely on much more partial evidence' (Robinson 1997:133). However, without this kind of occasional study, our knowledge about the use and value of distance education for teacher education remains limited. If policy-makers and planners remain reluctant to invest in occasional well-designed evaluation and research, they will lack the informed guidance they need.