Instructional Media Selection for Distance Learning: A Learning Environment Approach

Article excerpt


Educators and trainers are increasingly challenged within their respective organizations to provide for the efficient distribution of instructional content using instructional media. The appropriate selection of instructional media to support distance learning is not intuitive and does not occur as a matter of personal preference. On the contrary, instructional media selection is a systematic sequence of qualitative processes based on sound instructional design principles. Although media selection is often mentioned when studying the discipline of instructional technology or instructional systems design (ISD), it is sometimes overlooked when applying the selection process in a distance learning environment. It is our intent, therefore, for this guide to highlight the essentials of good media selection. We hope to present an instructionally sound and systematic approach to selecting the most appropriate media for the delivery of content at a distance.

Media selection is an integral part of the ISD process. In that role, media selection ensures that a specific distributed instructional medium can support the attainment of the desired learning objectives.

Distance learning has existed in the United States for more than 120 years. Not surprisingly though, many in the profession considered it a new phenomenon due largely to the emergence of the Internet. The resulting explosion in online learning was quickly embraced throughout the education and training communities encompassing K-12, higher education, and the corporate and government sectors.

Just as new technologies have given rise to new distance learning applications and new distance learning environments, so have they given rise to new terms that basically refer to the same thing. Some of the more popular terms are e-learning, online learning, and Web-based training. The mid-1990s saw the coining of the term advanced distributed learning, which was quickly adopted by many organizations. Even in the higher education community, where distance education was born, there have been revisions to the definition, to include the science of distance teaching and the resultant product, distance learning.

The definition of distance education in the academic community, however, has gained general consensus through its presence in leading course texts and peer-reviewed journals on the subject. As defined by the Quarterly Review of Distance Education, distance education is "institutionally based formal education where the learning group is separated and where interactive communications systems are used to connect instructors, learners, and resources." Alternatively, America's largest professional distance learning organization, the United States Distance Learning Association, has adopted the term distance learning, and defines it as "the acquisition of knowledge and skills through mediated information and instruction."

After the birth of the USDLA in 1989, the Los Alamos National Laboratory organized and sponsored the First Annual Conference on Distance Learning. This conference brought together the leading distance learning professionals from throughout the United States. In attendance were representatives from higher education, K-12, state and local governments, and the federal government. One of the major objectives of the conference was to agree on a universally accepted definition of distance learning. The definition that emerged was elegant in its simplicity: distance learning was defined as "structured learning that takes place without the physical presence of the instructor."

In the years that followed the Los Alamos conference, the distance learning landscape was changed dramatically with the development of the browser and the subsequent application of the Web to online learning. What emerged from this evolution of distance learning was a new set of terms born out of the online learning environment: Web-based instruction, Web-based learning, Web-based training, online learning, and the most prominent new term, e-learning. …