Distance Education Research: How Can It Help

Article excerpt

Most agree that, when examining the big picture, distance educa- tion is still in its infancy and grow- ing. As it grows and transforms, it is important to review the available research to make sure valuable resources are spent in an effective manner. If we follow this approach, mistakes can still be made along the way, but the prudent use of research will help alleviate major problems and provide more success stories and fewer failures.


Let's start by discussing the variety of research topics currently being discussed. A good overview of the types of research topics being addressed include:

* the philosophy and theory of distance education;

* distance education students;

* subject matter presentation;

* communication and interaction among students and their support system;

* administration and organization;

* economics;

* technologies; and

* history of distance education.

Each of these areas is being researched to some degree; however, there is still much research to do in almost every area. Therefore, if you are a researcher, I would encourage you to pursue any of these areas. The field is still very wide open and inviting. Three of my favorite areas of research that are beginning to produce some valuable fruit are distance education students, interaction, and distance education technologies.


The area that seems to have gotten the most research attention is distance education students. More specifically, learning outcomes have been the focus on much of the research efforts. The age old question is "Do distance learning students achieve mastery of the content as well as face-toface learners?" On average, it appears that face-to-face and distance learners achieve about the same when it comes to learning outcomes.

Obviously, this gives fuel to both to those who are prodistance education and those who are opposed. However, those who are prodistance education point to research showing that there are a lot of nonlearning outcome benefits that distance learners can enjoy. Mostly, these come in the form of "barrier removal." Some of these barriers include physical, fiscal, time, et cetera. When these barriers to achievement are removed, opportunities to learn are greatly increased.


Another area of distance education research that is important to the quality of distance education offerings is "interaction." The interaction within a class results in the development of a "community of learners." The research has clearly shown that a sense of community and the development of a community of learners is important to learning. This is true in faceto-face classes, but even more so in distance education due to the feelings of isolation that can accompany distance learners. …