Distance Learning and Social Change

Abstract

Distance learning can be defined as a form of education where learners can receive their education wherever they are through the use of electronic technology. Distance learning faces some major challenges. The main issue is the quality of the instructions. The instructions which reach the students attending distance learning classes do matter in terms of ensuring that they converge with the kind of instructions given in a face-to-face teaching set up. However, it is imperative to note that this is sometimes dependant on the attitude of the students towards the instructor. In most cases instructors fail to make the lessons in synchrony with the available new technology (Horgan, 1998). This makes the lesson lack preparedness and therefore the instructor fails to deliver what is intended for the students. This might be a result of the attitude of the instructor while teaching since it has been observed that the instructors are on the run to look for status and legitimacy that can differentiate them from other educators particularly those involved in the face-to-face teaching. In case the students have a negative feeling towards the instructor, then they may not learn much. It also makes them lose interest in what the instructor is trying to put across. Despite the existence of these setbacks, it is worth noting that the methods of open and distance learning are currently being matched with those employed in the face-to-face teaching practices save for the introduction of new technologies such as Video-conferencing (Bates, 1997). However, the major stakeholders in the education sector should be careful on how they go about engaging the introduction of the new technologies into the learning process. This should take into consideration the flexibility required, the interests of the students, and the structures to be changed in order to achieve efficiency and quality in service delivery (Harry, 1999, p.57). This paper seeks to outline the problems associated with the instructors’ attitudes towards the distance teaching practice and recommend changes to be effected in order to improve the instructors’ effectiveness, the operations to be affected by the changes and the ways of sustaining them in the long run.

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Distance learning and social change

Problem Statement

The problem addressed in this case entails the attitudes of instructors and their effectiveness towards the teaching practices in a distance-learning environment as a potential roadblock to effective learning in distance education. These attitudes affect both the instructors, students, and the learning institution itself.

The problem is an issue in the field of education in that the instructors lack the commitment towards creating a learning environment that supports the welfare of students and the quality of instructions that matches those of face-to-face teaching. Training and motivation of the instructors has been identified as being fundamental towards ensuring that the right tone for learning is set. This also ensures that the instructor is effective in delivering lectures and instructions. An instructor must be updated and capable of using the electronic technologies available to deliver effective and high standard lectures.

Explanation of the Problem

According to Howard (2004), the instructors of distance teaching and learning are not able to read the emotions of their students which makes it hard for these instructors to meet the student’s needs. It is also argued that the students’ behaviors are largely dependent on their personal needs, situations, and their individual attributes. Therefore student motivation is very important towards improving the student’s performance regardless of the context or the institutional setting. It has also been shown that the students of distance learning lack the spirit of motivation, and therefore their performance is not as good as that of their counterparts attending face-to-face instruction classes. In this case, knowing the students’ needs and personalities can help in planning for structures to be used in delivering instructions and lectures through distance teaching. It can also help in planning for the programs and formulation of policies in the interest of both the instructor and the student. This can also allow the instructor to handle the students in a manner that guarantees satisfaction of the interests of both parties especially when asking and responding to questions (Oliver and Carr, 2009). Knowing the personal and institutional-based needs of the students would motivate the students’ interest in learning and therefore create a better learning environment. Most of the times the instructor lacks attention to their own details as their attitudes or perceptions may appear less than encouraging while teaching online courses (Imel, 1998). Sometimes a lack of understanding may arise particularly when a student asks a question to an on-line instructor who may answer it in a manner that may be perceived as rudeness by the students. This will lower the performance of students who are learning through distance learning since they may not even have the morale to attend the classes. The instructor should also be confident enough with the electronic technologies being employed. But in most cases the instructors are not very savvy with the distance learning equipments, and they may fear failure (Imel, 1998). They do not trust the devices which are being used in the teaching and transmission process. They should therefore be well trained to tackle the issue of confidence. Tormey and Henchy (2008) argue that the quality and effectiveness of the distance learning program is dependent on the instructors’ attitude as much as on the administrators/planners’ attitudes towards the program. Normally learning should be a collaborative and participatory process. But in the case of online learning, sometimes the instructors tend to think that the technology itself can improve the quality of on-line education. Students do not meet and share ideas like in the case of live instruction learning. Besides the curriculum is designed in such a way that it does not offer for this provision. It is therefore, the objective of the instructor to instill a sense of collaborative learning in the students. They can achieve this by involving the students in participatory assignments where the students learn to share ideas and thus bridge the social distance between them (Akerlof, 1997). Oliver and Carr (2009) argued that distance learning should substitute face to face classes. They say that the technology should be used to bring people or rather students from different cultures and backgrounds together for them to share ideas in learning and their social lives. Research shows that social interaction and the distance between two individuals influences social decisions to a great extent (Akerlof, 1997). Therefore, a productive outcome may result from a socially designed group of a characteristic size in which members can coordinate to achieve the optimum results.

Implementation of changes

Recommended Changes to Address the Problem

The recommended changes seek to address two types of concerns that are identified in the problem statement. These are: the instructor’s concerns and the Student’s concerns. The following is recommended as the suitable changes that can address the problem:

  • Protection of the intellectual property rights of the instructors.
  • Rewarding the highly performing instructors which will enable re-definition of the administration’s role in distance learning.
  • Ensuring that both the instructors and students are up-to-date technology-wise to avoid miscommunications.
  • Allowing enough time for preparation for both the instructors and the students.
  • Taking the personal and institutional needs of the students into consideration when planning for Distance Learning.
  • Designing curriculums that are student-centered, flexible, efficient and quality for all students.
  • Involving all students in collaborative and network learning exercises.

The Stake-holders Involved in Implementing the Changes

The major stake holders in the education sector include: the administrators/planners, the instructors/educators and the students. The current problem tackles the issues that squarely lie in the dockets of the instructors and the administrators/planners more than the students. Therefore, the administration and the instructors should take the responsibility of implementing these recommendations in terms of re-adjusting their practices, operations and cultures to guarantee quality of the services offered.

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The Structures, Operations and the Cultures that are affected by the Changes

As documented in earlier discussions, a number of institutional and program-related factors contribute to the instructors’ attitudes and effectiveness in the open/distance learning program which then affects the quality of services delivered. The changes listed above affect a number of operations, structures and cultures in order to improve or change the instructors’ attitudes and effectiveness. These include: the institutions’ approach to new technologies, policy planning and formulation, preparation of curriculums, staff and students training and support facilities and programs, student services and their accessibility, copyright and Intellectual protection services, and the organizational structures (Levy, n.d.).

Sustainability plan

The Steps to be undertaken in implementing the Recommended Changes

Before implementing the Open/Distance Learning program, an institution needs to strategically plan for this program by assessing its purpose. This takes into consideration the budget for purchasing new technological machinery, training the teaching and the technical staff, copyright and intellectual protection rights and provision of student services. The programs to be offered on-line should also be chosen and budgeted for since not all programs can be suitable for on-line teaching. This is followed by the assessment of the effectiveness of the plan to be implemented relative to available resources and skills and its compliance with federal regulations. When everything is in place, the plan can then be implemented. Continuous assessment of the effectiveness of all the policies and programs in place is recommended in order to ensure that both the instructors and students enjoy the services. Continuous training of staff and students on the latest technologies available should also be implemented in order to ensure that quality is maintained in service delivery (Perrin et al., 2004).

Policies to be put in place to allow for sustainability of the recommendations

The recommended changes can be sustained through implementation of a number of policies. These should include: continuous and consistent assessment of the quality of services offered through Open and Distance Learning in order to ensure that the quality is maintained. Continuous reviewing of the curriculum relative to students’ needs and preferences will also guarantee student satisfaction and compliance. Further, continuous evaluation of the distance learning program relative to the face-to-face teaching practice will also ensure that on-line teaching instructors are up to speed with other forms of service delivery. Finally, guaranteeing the instructors of their copyright and intellectual protection rights will help in boosting their morale and motivation thereby ensuring that students are given the correct instructions.

Conclusion

The paper has outlined the major problems facing the Open and Distance learning programs in addition to recommending the appropriate changes to be undertaken in order to improve or eliminate these problems. Moreover, the paper outlines the major stake-holders affected by these changes. Further, the changes have been shown to affect a number of operations, cultures and structures that are perceived to be directly or indirectly related to the problems. Finally, the paper provides the steps and policies to be followed during the implementation of these changes in order to ensure long-term sustainability. As indicated, there are numerous issues affecting the Open and Distance Learning programs notably the instructors’ attitudes and effectiveness towards delivering quality instructions through on-line teaching. This is also compounded by the administration’s failure to provide guidelines or participate fully in the implementation of the program policies. This has led to unsatisfactory results on the part of long distance learners compared to their counterparts who are taught traditionally.

References List

  1. Akerlof, A.G. (1997). Social distance and social decision. Econometrica; 65(5): 1005-1027.
  2. Bates, A.W. (1997). The impact of technological change on open and distance learning. Distance Education; 18(1): 93-109.
  3. Harry, K. (1999). Higher education through open and distance learning: world review of distance education and open learning. London: Routledge.
  4. Horgan, B. (1998). Transforming higher education using information technology: first steps.
  5. Howard, C. (2004). Distance learning and university effectiveness: changing educational paradigms for online learning. New York: Idea Group Inc (IGI).
  6. Imel, S. (1998). Myths and realities of distance learning. Columbus, Ohio: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. Ohio State University. (Eric Document Reproduction Service No. ED 414 446).
  7. Levy, S. (n.d.). Six factors to consider when planning on-line distance learning programs in higher education. Santa Maria: Allan Hancock College.
  8. Oliver, M. & Carr, D. (2009). Learning in virtual worlds: Using communities of practice to explain how people learn from play. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 444–457.
  9. Perrin, D.G., Downes, S., Muirhead, B., Perrin, E. (2004). Distance education: a system view. International Journal of instructional technology and distance learning; 1(12): 61-64.
  10. Tormey, R., & Henchy, D. (2008). Re-imagining the traditional lecture: an action research approach to teaching student teachers to ‘do’ philosophy. Teaching in Higher Education, 13(3), 303–314. doi:10.1080/13562510802045337
Distance Learning and Social Change
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