Distance Learning in Higher Education: A Programmatic Approach to Planning, Design, Instruction, Evaluation, and Accreditation

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Distance Learning in Higher Education: A Programmatic Approach to Planning, Design, Instruction, Evaluation, and Accreditation, by Alfred P. Rovai, Michael K. Ponton, and Jason D. Baker Distance Learning in Higher Education: A Programmatic Approach to Planning, Design, Instruction, Evaluation, and Accreditation, by Alfred P. Rovai, Michael K. Ponton, and Jason D. Baker. (New York: Teachers College Press, 2008, 224 pages, $49.00).

The three professors from Regent University who authored Distance Learning in Higher Education: A Programmatic Approach to Planning, Design, Instruction, Evaluation, and Accreditation have prepared, in this reviewer's opinion, the first comprehensive, quality, introductory text on distance education in the field. Often while reading this book I thought, "I wish I had written this book" - it really says what it should say with no glaring omissions, does it in a simple and straightforward manner, and finally places under one cover the most relevant elements of the emerging distance education model of the twenty-first century. The book also presents advantages and disadvantages for distance educators to consider among possible options and between best approaches.

Many of the concepts covered in the text (e.g., adult learning, strategic planning, design, assessment, evaluation, and accreditation) are generalizable to other educational emphases, including, but not limited to, online education, e-learning, continuing education, distributed education, adult education, and blended learning. The publisher could easily repurpose this book to any of these emphases simply by substituting distance learning in the title with one of the other emphases, and by having authors make only minor textual changes. While the content is somewhat generic and introductory, the book's strength is in its comprehensive coverage of foundational topics and in the interrelatedness of those topics.

Even though the book itself includes many references about technology, and much of the discussion revolved around uses of technology in a subject-related context, its focus is not on technology. I assume the authors were strategic in their decision not to include technology in the book's title, but make no mistake - a technology theme threads itself throughout the entire book. It may be that these words found in the "program and course design" chapter represent the authors' perspective on the subject: "one can argue that technology itself is neutral and that the real issue is how people use the technology" (p. 75).

The book is generally well written with a good mix of findings from the literature and practical suggestions from the field. I was pleased to see the three authors acknowledge from time to time that while the literature suggests one thing, experience and intuition should temper theoretical and inconclusive findings. For example, in the "program evaluation" chapter, the authors address the theoretical elements of a good evaluation but then acknowledge that "evaluators must not equate evidence with truth. Rational decision making is based on both evidence and professional judgment. The danger is that evaluators and administrators may make decisions based solely on measurements because of the appearance of truth" (p. 120).

It is evident from the manner in which content is introduced and information discussed that the authors are also trained in instructional science and design. The authors skillfully frame each chapter using advance organizers and intersperse meaningful tables and figures at appropriate times to simplify and clarify denser text and difficult discussions. The book itself is a notable example of how to prepare instructional materials and write a reader- and instruction-friendly book.

A total of 10 figures and 10 tables are distributed across 1 1 chapters and approximately 160 pages of text, not including the three appendices. A reader with limited time or significant background in distance learning could easily skip from table to figure and then yet another figure to table without reading intervening text to capture writer essence. …