Interactive Distance Learning: Perspective and Thoughts

By Barket, Randolph T.; Holley, Charles L. | Business Communication Quarterly, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Interactive Distance Learning: Perspective and Thoughts


Barket, Randolph T., Holley, Charles L., Business Communication Quarterly


Economic and academic challenges that confront colleges and universities present opportunities for developing creative solutions that include visualizing problems in new formats, resolving problems in innovative ways, and developing and implementing strategies not previously used. In a competitive university environment heavily influenced by various forms of technology, current and potential students increasingly have choices among diverse course offerings. Students' decisions about courses are influenced by the relevance of specific course content and the quality of the instruction as well as by the overall perceived value of any alternative course format such as distance offerings.

Whereas some versions of distance learning have existed for many years in various organizations, there is not yet widespread uniformity regarding important issues related to the delivery of distance learning. This article presents some selected perspectives on distance learning (including certain issues related to the delivery of distance learning), describes one school's structured process of identifying some guiding principles associated with the formulation of new distance-learning strategies, and offers a look into the future of distance learning.

Perspectives on Distance Learning

This section describes selected descriptions and definitions of distance learning, diverse views on the important attributes that characterize distance learning, and summaries of selected empirical studies conducted to examine distance-learning delivery systems. The principles for distance learning described later in this paper are in general influenced by aspects of these descriptions and characteristics.

Descriptions of Distance Learning

Holmberg (1985) described distance education as "the various forms of study at all levels which are not under the continuous, immediate supervision of a tutor present with students in lecture rooms or on the same premises, but which, nevertheless, benefit from the planning, guidance, and tuition of a tutorial organization" (p. 2).

Duguet (1995) suggests a distance-learner is anyone who is not necessarily in the presence of a teacher while learning. Distance learning is not a recent discovery. What is new and important for the future is the place of distance learning in relation to face-to-face education. Duguet's research suggests a number of reasons for this development. First, it is necessary to reduce the principal costs of face-to-face education - the salary and the construction and maintenance of facilities. It should be noted that the start-up cost of producing teaching materials for distance learning is relatively high. Over time, these costs average to half as much as the traditional approach. The second reason is organizational. Distance-education has been considered to be on the edge of the traditional higher-education system. The distance-education student and instructor tended to be viewed less favorably than the traditional delivery system. But in the United Kingdom, with the accomplishments of the Open University, this situation and perception are changing. The third reason is pedagogical. In response to the variety of learners and their concerns of time and location, the distance-teaching organizations have produced innovations that surpass the traditional system. The final reason is technological progress, which permits greater learning interaction between the student and the instructor.

Finally, Cyrs (1989), defined distance learning and teaching as education and training through live television by any electronic delivery systems including microwave, fiber optic, or satellite, using one- or two-way video and two-way audio, or in a packaged format using videotape with or without telephone or other electronic interface.

Characteristics of Distance Learning

Keegan (1986) stressed the following attributes as the main elements of distance education: the separation of teacher and learner, the influence of an education organization, the use of technical media, the provision of two-way communication, and the possibility of occasional feedback meetings. …

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