Interactive Distance Education: Implications for the Adult Learner

By Carter, Alex | International Journal of Instructional Media, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview
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Interactive Distance Education: Implications for the Adult Learner

Carter, Alex, International Journal of Instructional Media

Distance education is currently considered one of the fastest growing forms of education both domestically and internationally. The process of distance education is providing a structured learning environment in which the teacher and student(s) are separated by time and geographical place with some form of technology being used for the transmission of all teaching and learning [1, 2, 3]. Although the concept of distance education has existed for many years in different forms, it has only been since the early 1980s that the growth of this form of education has become widely accepted within the higher education community both internationally and nationally [1].

One form of distance education that has benefited from recent technological developments has been interactive distance education. In this form of distance education the teacher and students, although physically separated, can see and hear each other through two-way audio and video communications thus providing a real-time teaching/learning environment. Interactive distance education usually has one origination site with a teacher and students plus one or more additional receive sites where there will only be students and possibly a class monitor or facilitator. This type of instruction is usually provided utilizing a compressed video format that is supported by cable or T1 lines [4, 5].

Another emerging aspect of higher education relates to the growing number of adults who are attending colleges as either part- or full-time students. In fact, the current trend on many campuses is that the average age of the students on campus continues to increase each year. This means that the concept of providing quality educational programs which meet the needs of adult students must continually be up-dated and revised to be effective. As indicated by Walcon [6 p. 145] "to effectively bridge the gaps between classroom and distance teaching, faculty need to look at the distance teaching and learning from the students' point of view." This situation is especially true for the adult student taking classes through interactive distance education. There must be a high level of motivation and drive demonstrated by the adult student in order for that student to be successful in this type of instructional setting. This concept is supported by Threlkeld and Brzoska when they state that "Adults who are most likely to complete courses using distance technology have a cluster of important characteristics, such as tolerance for ambiguity, a need of autonomy, and an ability to be flexible" [7 p. 54]. Therefore, adult learners who are considered field-independent will probably exhibit more success within interactive distance education than those individuals displaying tendencies toward field-dependence.


The present study was conducted based on results obtained from a questionnaire completed by adult students taking interactive distance education classes offered through the Community College Network (CCN) at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. For the purposes of this research, an adult learner is any individual who was age 25 or older when they initially enrolled in an interactive distance education class [8]. Information for this research was gathered over several semesters and included students taking both academic and vocational/technical courses.


There were 190 questionnaires that formed the basis for this research. The students completed the questionnaires at the end of the semester in which they were enrolled in an interactive distance education course. Forty-nine percent of the respondents were female while fifty-one percent were male. The average age of the respondents was 35.7 for females and 34.9 for males. The classification of the respondents included 42% sophomores, 22% freshmen, and 36% as other. The program area of study reported included 24% academic, 3% vocational, and 73% technical. Respondents were divided into three groups based on where the student took their interactive course.

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