Web-Based Technologies for Distributed (or Distance) Learning: Creating Learning-Centered Educational Experiences in the Higher Education Classroom. (Instructional Media Initiatives: Focusing on the Educational Resources Center at Thirteen/WNET, New York, New York)

Article excerpt


The rapid growth of the Internet has undoubtedly contributed to the wealth of literature written on the future of distance learning and distributed learning (1) in higher education (Sherron, 1997; Rowntree, 1992). Subsequently, a dialogue about Web-based technologies for instruction has emerged across both K-12 and higher education communities as concerns about cost-effectiveness, access, and flexibility have been brought to the table and debated (Fetterman, 1998; Jones, 1996; Rumble, 1997; Bell, 1991). Among faculty and administrators, discussions of distance and distributed learning often focus on what it means as an instructor to teach in this type of environment. Interestingly enough, these conversations at colleges and universities center around how to best deliver instruction to students who are separated physically from their instructor and therefore tend to focus on the medium by which instruction is transmitted, as opposed to discussions of how students actually learn in this environment. However, as a faculty member who over the past several years has been experimenting with Web-based technologies in teaching and learning, I maintain that the discourse about distance learning projects needs to be reconceptualized as technology-based learning-centered education, so that we as educators can better focus on the creation of a more learning-centered environment for students and life-long learners. In other words, under what conditions can the creators of traditional instruction become facilitators of learning? And how can we create the conditions for learning so that students become inwardly centered to learn on their own? These seem to be the key components of what could be called essential learning. I believe that the most useful research and discussions will need to focus on how to facilitate learning with technology and the Internet. For example, does technology-based learning-centered education have to be interactive; does it need to be collaborative? Are we trying to transmit knowledge or to create knowledge? And how might we use technology to accomplish these objectives?

Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which a higher education classroom, which used Web-based technology as a supplement to a regularly scheduled classroom-based course, addressed these issues of learning and learning-centered education. Throughout the semester, students worked with me, the instructor, to explore the concept of learning-centered education as was evidenced by whether or not distributed learning enhanced or detracted from the opportunity for students to learn from each other, and to determine if the use of distributed learning increased access to and flexibility in learning. In my experience of working in higher education classrooms at Teachers College, Columbia University, I have utilized several different types of Web-based technologies in order to facilitate learning, primarily as distributed learning. Attempts at creating technology-based, learning-centered educational experiences for my students have met with only moderate success as defined by my own classroom observations as well as by student surveys. However, I believe that the findings presented in this paper, although based only on a one-semester class, lend credence to the argument that distance learning cannot be merely delivered to students, and that as educators we must instead focus on how to create learning-centered environments supported by technology, not driven by it. (2)


The course was entitled "Information Systems for Decision Making in Learning Organizations." It was a graduate level class taught in a school of education in a program of educational administration. The class was offered as a face-to-face seminar that met one night a week and had 13 students enrolled. The purpose of the class was to provide a theoretical, conceptual, and operational analysis of information systems used for decision making and problem solving in learning organizations. …