More trends in online learning and distance education

1)      In their report, State of the Art and Trends in Distance, Flexible, and Open Learning: A Review of the Literature, Lai, Pratt and Grant (2003) define some emerging aspects of and issues with distance education.

These are:

·        Distance education (DE) includes flexible and open learning. These forms of education are student-centred and students can learn where, how, when, and what they need. Thus, the restrictions placed on students are minimized.

·        Institutions who lead in DE

o   Provide most resources and administrative services online (including library and technical services and support)

o   Students are supported via the Internet with personal support and outside working hours

o   Support and guide staff involved in DE

o   Have few or no compulsory attendance times, and with synchronous sessions

o   Learning materials, such as recorded lectures, are available online to access anytime

o   The constructivist approach is used in teaching

o   Interaction is important and implemented via technology


The trends are:

·        Traditional universities have pressure to offer and expand DE

·        Traditional universities face challenges such as using technology with learning, adverse economic climate, increasing commercial competition, greater flexibility, globalization and modularization of degree pathways.

·        Dual-mode status of university increasing as well as offsetting tech costs and looking for new audience such as part-time students and just-in-time professional updating


For trends in online learning:

·        Constructivism, collaborative learning, authentic tasks, reflection and dialogue

o   To achieve higher quality of learning than face-to-face

·        The need for staffing policies and models

·        The more flexible, interactive and supportive a course, the more expensive it is (p.19), and due to:

o   Online tutoring

o   Multimedia products

o   Staff time

·        Save costs by:

o   Partnering with private sector partners for technology infrastructures and skills; joining consortiums of universities to share development costs and time or buy their courseware; partnering with oversea institutions; and, outsourcing course development overseas.

o   “Personnel. As one of the main costs is in personnel, these costs can be reduced by dividing up tasks that would normally all be done by a lecturer and having teaching assistants or the like doing many of the administrative and day to day tasks that take so much time. This involves the so called ‘unbundling’ of the faculty role so that different specialists develop the curriculum, teach the course, and evaluate student performance (Farrell, 2000; Armstrong, 2000).

o   • Technology. Course management software and automated response systems (Taylor, 2001) also have the potential to reduce costs involved with open and flexible learning.

o   • Class size. It is also pointed out (eg, see Twigg, 2001) that distance learning is more easily expandable, as it is not limited by the number of seats that are available in a lecture theatre. Increasing class size is therefore a means of increasing financial output of a course” (p. 20).


As well, “Twigg (2001) has suggested five major contributors to cost reduction: (1) students’ knowledge and skills are assessed as they enter the course and they can then select the most efficient path through the required course material; (2) an array of interactive materials and activities is provided to reduce the time for the lecturer to present information; (3) individualised study plans are facilitated by information technology tools; (4) built-in continuous assessment, carried out by automated systems; and (5) the provision of appropriate and varied human interaction with emphasis on student-to-student interaction and student mentorship” (p. 20).


They suggest piecemeal approaches to designing and implementing online learning is counter-productive but takes university-wide strategies based on their values of teaching and learning, new teaching technologies, organizational systems and networks and systematic planning.


Effective policies for flexible learning should address:

·        Development at the highest level

·        Learning development managers to coordinate strategies for preparing teachers

·        Development strategies for instructional design with local and central production

·        Support for learners

·        Promotion and embed flexible learning to compete in markets

·        Teacher’s beliefs


2)      Romiszowski (2005) in his chapter on Online Learning: Are We on the Right Track (?), looks at emerging trends in the literature on online learning as:


·        A progression towards a networked society

·        Areas of emerging trends that are synergistically integrated:

o   As costs of transportation increases, telecommunication costs decrease supplemented by increased availability

o   Multimedia utilizes all senses for a learner

o   Info can be digitized and transmitted

·        The self-driven learner interacting and debating with others

·        Past failures of online learning program and universities that have declined implementing them raises the question about its effectiveness


Obstacle to the growth of online learning might be:

·        overburdened teachers who have to work more with online students

·        percentage increase in student workload but will be sustainable considering long term benefits to study online


Only the media, not the learning activities have changed online (resources, group meetings, partner work) – “in reality, pedagogically speaking, very little real innovation is taking place” (p.326). However, technology is more cost effective.


Therefore, the potential of online learning is:

·        increased interaction and dialogue without increasing the involvement of the teacher. What is needed is to discover “how to automate some of the functions of skilled and gifted discussion (or “conversation”) facilitators” (p.328).

·        better transactional distance than in person lectures

·        address needs and capabilities of students

·        can facilitate learning directed at individuals

·        do not have to invalidate older learning principles

·        instructional design should combine education philosophies with how learners choose to interact

·        the collaboration of many expertise in instruction, web, multimedia and graphic design

·        traditional assessment procedures are ill-fitted to the digital world in how people use information versus rote learning

·        technologies should support the preferred learning styles and learning skills of students

·        learners will develop new perspectives on how learning is best supported and encouraged online

·        the one-size-fits-all approach does not work

·        the collaborative mode of learning might not be sustainable on a large scale

·        the use of the web for access and storage comes with problems: viruses, spam, information-garbage (non-credible info)

·        however, consider the limitations of technologies and that the web is not a quality teaching-learning system  – that has to be created


The success or failure of the education technology project is due more to its implementation and management than design. Also important are other sub-systems such as evaluation instruments, copies of learning materials, creating websites, develop or reconfigure interactive software, logistics of instructional material, media distribution, maintenance of communication media, and their interdependence of these. Adopting technologies must be viewed in broader contextual factors.


New education trends: informal learning in community of practice settings, flexible learning for continuing professional education – generated from the needs of practitioners.

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