Technology to Enhance Learning: Distance & Online Applications
Learning at a distance is much different than learning in a classroom, but distance learning (specifically, online learning) can really have advantages that one just cannot get with learning that occurs at a set, fixed time and place. However, there are also some problems that are unique to online learning and that cannot be found when one learns in a classroom. The type of class that is being taught, along with the kinds of people who are learning and how they learn, are both important when it comes to which kind of education is the best choice (Addison, 2000; Moody, 2004). Effective learning for distance learners can only come about if the learners are dedicated, disciplined, and prepared to do what it takes to learn on their own. With a classroom setting less discipline is needed, but with online learning, a person has to force himself or herself to complete the assignments.
If an online learner is dedicated to getting his or her degree, it is certainly possible to do so. If the person who takes classes online assumes that those classes will be easier and he or she can just “skate through,” then the person may be upset. It will not take long for an online learner to discover that is it actually work to learn online, and it is not something that can be taken lightly if one expects to succeed. For an online learner, attitude really is everything. Feedback is also very different when it comes to online learning vs. learning in a traditional classroom. Getting feedback in a traditional classroom is very easy, but online is far different. Online learners get their feedback through email, usually. It is sometimes difficult to be sure on things like tone of voice and intent of words or phrases when a person reads something through email. With that being the case, things can easily be misconstrued by online learners and they should make sure that they ask for clarification if they are unsure about something they have been told by their instructor.
As on online faculty member, there are best practice strategies that could be used to develop online discussion questions. Online questions that are used in discussions that take place over the Internet have to be worded in just the right way, or they will not be appropriate for the students – and misunderstandings could occur. In other words, communicating online through discussion questions is not the same as communicating in a regular classroom where clarification can take place quite easily (Moody, 2004). Because of that, best practices indicate that any discussion questions that are created for online use should be more simplistic than questions that might be asked in the classroom. If one starts out small and simple with the discussion questions, it is easier to avoid misunderstandings. At that point, once the question has been asked and answered, the instructor can move on to asking follow-up questions, because a strong basis for understanding would have already been established (Addison, 2000).
By creating follow up questions, an online faculty member would be able to assess how much the students were learning. With distance education, that assessment is very important because there are only a few different ways to assess understanding. Since educators and their students do not have the same kinds of interaction they would in the classroom, assessment must be done through tests and through online discussion of the issues that were taught in the course (Addison, 2000; Moody, 2004). Any one of those issues could pose a problem for the students, and if the instructor does not ask about those issues in a timely manner they could plague a student or even a group of students until the next test, when the problems would become obvious. Discussion questions that are too complicated will not translate well online, but when the questions are very simplistic, follow up questions must be a large part of the discussion. Otherwise, too much will be lost and the instructor will not be able to adequately assess how well the students have learned.
Addison, J. (2000). Outsourcing Education, Managing Knowledge, and Strengthening Academic Communities. In Werry & Mowbray Online Communities: Commerce Community Action, and the Virtual University (175-194). New York: Prentice Hall.
Moody, J. (2004). Distance education: Why are the attrition rates so high? The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 5(3), 205-210.
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