A Teacher's Guide to Distance Learning
The implementation of distance learning technologies requires careful planning. Figure 16 illustrates the major phases in the implementation process.
Figure 16. Implementation procedure.
1. Conduct Needs AssessmentThe needs assessment or analysis phase consists of four parts: course analysis, audience analysis, instructor analysis, and technology analysis.
Course analysis. The course analysis seeks to identify content areas that could be enhanced, expanded, or initiated through distance learning techniques. Begin by examining the instructional needs that are not being met and determining if distance learning could contribute. Potential areas could include courses that have a high demand, but few instructors; courses that are needed in geographically diverse locations; courses that would benefit from remote experts; and courses that could address special needs, such as homebound students.
Audience analysis. Distance learning techniques are not appropriate for all students. In most cases, a great deal of motivation and the ability to work in a self-paced environment are essential. You should carefully examine the locations of the students also. For example: Will the instruction be delivered to schools or to homes? Can the students read? What are their learning styles? Is supervision required?
Instructor analysis. With distance learning, facilitators and technical support teams are also necessary. For example, there may be a "teacher" who delivers the lesson via a videoconferencing system. The class is then sent to several schools throughout the area, and remote students participate. At each site, however, supervisors must be in the room with the students; technical support staff must make sure that the equipment is functioning.
Technology analysis. As outlined in chapters 6-9, there are many different technologies that can be used to deliver distance learning. Selecting the most appropriate technology depends on the content area, the learning styles of the students, and the existing hardware and software. For example, foreign language instruction requires an audio component, and Web-based education is impossible if the students do not have access to a computer.
The geographic locations of the teachers and students can also impact the technology solution. Figure 17 provides recommendations based on the number of sites.
One Many S
Satellite videoconference One Many
A Video/audiotapes, CD-ROM Few Few S
Computer videoconference Few Many
A Web-based education Many Many S
Internet chat Many Many
Figure 17. Technology analysis.
2. Outline Instructional Goals and Objectives; Produce Instructional MaterialsA well-structured distance learning course must place instructional objectives foremost. The technology should be as invisible as possible -- just another tool that teachers can use to effectively convey the content and interact with students.
After the goals and objectives are outlined, the instructional materials can be designed and developed. It is important not to underestimate the commitment required for this step -- creating effective materials for distance learning is an extremely time-consuming and energy-consuming process. Regardless of whether the technology is audiotape or satellite video, ample time must be allocated to ensure that the materials are accurate, appropriate, and structured to maximize the benefits for distant students and to minimize the limitations.
3. Provide Training and Practice for Instructors and Facilitators.Many of the techniques and skills used in a classroom teaching situation do not translate directly into a distance education approach. Teacher training programs are important to acquaint the teachers with the use of technology as well as to help with the re-design of the instructional strategies. In particular, most teachers need assistance and practice with:
Facilitators and support personnel are also crucial to successful distance learning experiences. If students are located at remote sites, facilitators will likely be the on-the-spot contacts for the students. It is important that they are fully integrated into the course and communicate frequently with the instructor. In addition, support personnel are important for both the instructor and the students to ensure that the technology functions as it should and does not cause undue frustration.
- Effective strategies for implementing small group activities and individual practice
- Techniques for maximizing teacher/student and student/student interactions
- Successful approaches for integrating technology into the teaching/learning process
- Tactics for motivating students at a distance
4. Implement the ProgramAfter the training is complete and a pilot test has been conducted to ensure the technology is functioning, the program can be implemented. One important factor to keep in mind is the need to include structured activities. Timelines, deadlines, and feedback help to motivate students and provide the framework the students need to function in a flexible environment.
Another important aspect to keep in mind during the implementation phase is the need to emphasize interactions. Research strongly supports the need for interaction in distance learning initiatives. "Programs need to include methods for receiving feedback, providing help, and creating a sense of belonging" (Parker, 1997, 10). Students of all ages respond positively when they know someone cares.
Conduct On-going EvaluationFormative evaluation takes place throughout the development and implementation. At each step of the way, instructors and administrators should stop and review. In addition to querying the students, ask others who have implemented similar programs to assess the approach. Make revisions as often necessary.
Conduct Summative Evaluation
Summative evaluations take place after the instruction is completed and provides data for future planning (Willis, 1995). Evaluations can be conducted through surveys, achievement tests, interviews, or other methods. Careful analysis of summative evaluations can be used to identify both strengths and weaknesses of the distance learning course, content, and approach.
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Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1999, 2009.