Instructor Interactions in Distance Education Environments

By Martera-Gutierrez, Fernando | Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Instructor Interactions in Distance Education Environments


Martera-Gutierrez, Fernando, Journal of Interactive Learning Research


The extant literature on distance education indicates that research regarding interaction illustrates that different types of instructional design methods and delivery technologies allow differing degrees of interaction. While many studies on distance education have focused on the role of distance learners (e.g., leaner-centered instruction, learner's perceptions), there has been comparatively little focus on instructional design strategies and interactions used by distance learning instructors. Instructors in distance education share different sets of interactions from distance learners. This article discusses the results of a case study that identified and documented instructional design interactions used by selected instructors teaching at a distance.

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Distance education researchers, especially in America, (Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Willis, 1994; Cyrs, 1997a; McIsaac & Gunawardena, 1996; Murphy, Harvell, & O'Donnell, 1998) have claimed that distance education requires specific instructional design strategies, interactions, and skills, which can fit the particular characteristics of distance learning programs and courses. In addition to these strategies and skills, some researchers claim that a theoretical instructional design base is essential. For instance, Koymen (1989) stated that, "there is a need for a theoretical base for teaching effectively in distance education to help the educational developer and instructional designer" (p. 247). In the same sense Moore and Thompson stated that,

It must be understood that distance education is much more than simply adding a new communications technology to an existing educational organization. Major pedagogical, instructional, and philosophical implications result from the learner or learners being more or less permanently separated from the teacher. (Moore & Thompson, 1997, p. 2)

Instructional design in the field of distance education:

... provides a process and framework for systematically planning, developing, and adapting instruction based on identifiable learner needs and content requirements. This process is essential in distance education, where the instructor and students may share limited common background and typically have minimal face-to-face contact. (Willis, 1998)

The diverse instructional design models used in distance education are built around the main components and variables of the instructional process itself, such as (a) instructional analysis; (b) identification of learning objectives and goals; (c) analysis of instructional content; (d) selection and implementation of instructional strategies and delivery; (e) selection of learning materials; (f) instructional management; and (g) evaluation and assessment (Kodali, 1998). Although different instructional design models used these components in varying ways, all of these models match the basic set of constituents of instructional design, which are conditions, methods, and outcomes (Reigeluth & Merrill, 1979).

Besides these central instructional design constituents some authors (Moore & Kearsley, 1996; Cyrs, 1997b) observed that instructional design in distance education deals also with other important key elements, such as instructor interactions, communication skills, and learning principles for the design of distance learning programs and courses. These elements are important in the design of instruction for distance learning courses (Mortera, 1999). "The term instruction in this case means the planning for and delivery of learning experiences ... It involves planning, teaching, interacting, learning, and assessment" (Rossman & Rossman, 1995, p. 26). These elements differ significantly from those used in the standard face-to-face and traditional classroom setting. Besser and Bonn (1996, p. 7) noted that: "Educators must not see distance education as an universal innovation applicable to all types of instructional situations, but must carefully analyze the appropriateness of distance independent learning to vario us types of instructional situations. …

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