Students Perceptions of Distance Learning, Online Learning and the Traditional Classroom by John O'Malley and Harrison McCraw

I am repeating the format of last week's blog entry and only briefly discussing the article I selected, Students Perceptions of Distance Learning, Online Learning and the Traditional Classroom. There are two reasons I am keeping my discussion short.

1. As Nilda mentioned in her annotation, I also thought the purpose and usefulness of this research was somewhat ambiguous.

2. I am using this article to support a larger discussion on the research and literature being gathered and reviewed by the quality and assessment group.

To begin let's look at the article’s purpose, which was to study student perceptions of online and distance education. The authors claim the research has been done to examine the impact of new technologies on education, yet it does little to explain the effects that instructional technology on learners. Instead they analyze their subjects responses to questions that merely clarify what the learners like better, online learning or onsite learning. The article reads more like The Pepsi Challenge than an academic study. In fact, the authors themselves make it clear that the study is not useful as supporting research.

This study surveyed students in business courses only. Results therefore cannot be generalized to non-business students. In addition, students surveyed were at one university and these results cannot be generalized to students at other universities. In regards to the DL findings, it may be that the university where the students are surveyed is not effectively using DL methodologies although instructors do receive extensive DL training. It may also be that the technology used is not enabling effective DL.

In other words the research is only helpful to those who are making decisions about online learning at Richards College of Business, State University of West Georgia. I would also question its usefulness for that institution as the researchers did not assess either the teaching methodologies or the delivery technologies used at the school before conducting their survey.

Still the article is a great example of a larger question currently impacting distance and web-based education: how does one assess the quality of interactions between student and teacher, user and technology or a combination of all four? I see this question as the underlying influence for the research being done by the quality and assessment group.

Nilda and Linda are researching the impact of technologies on traditional academic interactions, defined by the article's authors as one-to-one and one-to-few arrangements. Nilda’s research focuses on the quality of technological interaction as a mediation between student and teacher and Linda’s research focuses on the quality of technological interaction as a mediation between student and tutor. Both are also concerned with the distance created through technological interactions, Nilda researching student perceptions of online interaction as compared to onsite interaction and Linda researching the compatibility of offshore faculty to connect to onshore students.

Tracy's research takes a different path as she is more concerned with the assessment of interactions between user and technology, focusing on Learning Object Metadata (LOM), defined by IEEE as

the attributes required to fully/adequately describe a Learning Object. Learning Objects are defined here as any entity, digital or non-digital, which can be used, re-used or referenced during technology supported learning. […] Examples of Learning Objects include multimedia content, instructional content, learning objectives, instructional software and software tools, and persons, organizations, or events referenced during technology supported learning.

Her research is a good example of the difficulties effecting the representation of interaction as use of technology and also who or what the user is being connected to through the technology. Is interaction something between a user and a technology, a facilitator, a network or a mixture of all three?

I will stop there and leave you with a question we will use to start our discussion on Tuesday, which is how does one assess or standardize the quality of interactions through or with technology? I am hoping the class will be able explore this question during the first half of the session and then ask group two to expand on the discussion as it may or may not relate to their research.

Exploring the Changing Face of Higher Education: Instructional Technologies, Distance Education & Adult Learners by Cynthia D. Hollingsworth

The Influences of Distance Learning on Adults by Henry O’Lawrence

Adult Learner and Distance Education

My final blog entry for the semester will focus on the review of two articles: The influences of distance learning on adult learners and Exploring the changing face of higher education: Instructional technologies. distance education, and adult learners. The articles will be reviewed in relation to the topic of adult learners and touch on some important issues concerning adult learners and distance education. I will provide some additional literature and commentary to expand the discussion beyond the scope of the articles.

Adult learners and distance education is a topic that has been central to a lot of the research, professional work, and/or area of study for this class. However, many of the issues presented in these two articles are most relevant to the work of Rebecca and Allan.

A relevant area of discussion that emerged from Hollingsworth is related to the changing landscape of higher education. The article provides some examples of how institutions of higher education (IHE) are working to meet the needs of adult learners through the flexibility in calendar and scheduling, academic content, modes of instruction and availability of learning services. Specifically, the author raised the issue that, j6

…as recently as 1997, the Commission for a Nation of Lifelong Learners found that ‘many current higher education practices are ill adapted to the needs of employers and adult learners. They pose barriers to participation, including a lack of flexibility in calendar and scheduling, academic content, modes of instruction and availability of learning services ... (Hollingsworth, p. 253).

Schools of continuing education, such as NYU’s SCPS are well established in IHE. Other examples include Boston University and UCLA. For those schools that are well established and specifically target adult learners, have they ignored these issues? Are these new issues or are these old issues that need new ways of addressing them?

I would argue that the issues for the adult learner in terms of flexibility, scheduling, academic content have always been present. However, in today’s market the needs are changing. So therefore universities have to address the same issues but in a different way. Here’s a little excerpt from my dissertation that reviews the current situation related to continuing education:

The job market is constantly changing: new sectors are always in need of trained professionals, while, at the same time, other sectors become less likely to accept new graduates. There is an increasing need to supply the market with newly trained professionals. Consequently, the demands of employers act as a catalyst for curriculum and program changes in higher education (LaPidus, 2000). Larry Cuban (2002) has argued that, within universities, programs curricula are subject to the most changes in their structure, culture, and processes, therefore, when market changes occur, they may affect various programs of study... . Today, students are in a position to be more selective regarding their choices in the graduate programs. Students invest their time and resources in advanced degrees because holders of graduate degrees are believed to make one a more marketable candidate in many work contexts. It is incumbent upon such programs to recognize their obligation to the vast majority of students who use their graduate degrees as currency in the job market. Students are demanding more profession-related knowledge and practical skills so they may better prepare themselves to function in the workplace.

Some suggestions to address adult learners needs are:

• Just-in-time instruction
• Synchronous communication and increase modes of communication

Some examples of what universities and colleges are doing to provide more accessibility and flexibility for adult learners are:

• Reduced costs of degrees
• Increased online course/degree offerings

To further advance the discussion by Hollingsworth, O’Lawrence (2006) presented an interesting set of research questions directed at adult learners:

• What influences adult learners to participate in distance education?
• What motivates adult learners?
• What deters adult learners?

The findings indicate that adults enjoy the flexibility and self-tailored learning that distance education provides. These findings seem to support the literature in this area. However, self tailored learning in this article is defined as allowing student to learn at their own pace, in their preferred medium or in a more comfortable environment (O’Lawrence, 2006, p. 48). How do these findings relate to the literature we’ve been reading on constructivism, heutagogy, andragogy, and self-pace, self directed learning? In addition, O’Lawrence (2006) found that “the most significant drawback is that some of the adult learners lack self-discipline and time management skills” (p. 48). Wow! So what do we do? Do we design self-paced instruction for learners who have difficult managing their time and lack self-discipline to complete the self-paced “activities” or do we structure learning in a way that provides some flexibility for learners using techniques to help students manage their time and motivate them to engage in the classroom? Does self-pace learning translate into “I’m a busy adult and I want to complete my assignments when I have time?” Does it make sense for learning to happen at the pace of the student – can it or does it cause some discontinuity in learning the content. These are some important questions for us to think about and I hope we can discuss them during class on Tuesday.

For those of you studying adult learners and continuing education this is an excellent resource:

Kohl, K. J. & LaPidus, J. B. (Eds.), Postbaccalaureate futures: New markets, resources and credentials. Phoenix: The Oryx Press.