Distance Learning: The Essential Guide


Marcia L. Williams, Kenneth Paprock & Barbara Covington

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    Table of Questions

    • What is distance learning? What is open learning? 2
    • How has technological change affected distance teaching and learning through the years? 3
    • Why are open and distance networks growing in today's and tomorrow's educational settings? 6
    • What do you mean by multimodel? Can you give an example? 7
    • What does the research tell us about instructors' experiences in this new environment? 9
    • What does the research tell us about learners' experiences in this new environment? 10
    • What else can you tell me about the ARCS Model and how it has been applied to distance education research? 11
    • Why Choose OSI for Your PC-Based Distance Learning Network? 36
    • Why choose ISDN for your PC-based distance learning network? 43
    • If this new environment is going to work for me, I need to be comfortable. How do I speed up the process? 87
    • How do I get started? 88
    • How can I make my students comfortable? 91
    • When it comes to teaching, is there anything I can do the way I did before? What things are the same? 106
    • What is meaningful learning? 106
    • What do you mean by the extent of participation? 107
    • How do I use what I know about the nature of participation to create a distance education environment that encourages meaningful learning? 108
    • What's different in open and distance learning environments? 111
    • What do you mean by “participative teaching methods and techniques”? 124
    • How do I prepare students to learn from a distance? 127

    About the Book

    The Question:

    How can this book help me?

    The Answer:

    Distance Learning: The Essential Guide is for individuals who find themselves engaged in open and distance learning activities. It has been designed with an applications focus that will provide you with a “quick start” for immediate work needs. Built on an intuitive set of “How do I” questions, the book will help provide you with the foundation needed to teach from a distance. The format of the book is a multimodel approach, combining reading case studies, tear-out worksheets, and checklists:

    • To introduce open and distance learning concepts and methods
    • To furnish tools needed to adapt to the changing environment
    • To help develop technical skills needed to feel confident, competent, and comfortable teaching from a distance
    • To introduce instructional design strategies for reformatting existing courses for open and distance learning environments
    • To provide the processes needed to move from a basic level of competency to levels of proficiency and mastery

    In addition, Distance Learning: The Essential Guide contains templates designed to be copied. This “Quick Start Symbol” will identify those pages. These pages and only these pages may be duplicated. No other part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the authors.

  • Glossary of Terms

    Sources for selected definitions used here include Duning, Van Kekerix, and Zaborowski (1993); Hobbs (1994); Newton (1991); Portway and Lane (1992); Tele-Systems Associates (1994); and West, Farmer, and Wolff (1991).

    • Advanced organizer: An advanced organizer is a bridge, a transition statement, which is not only a summary of prior learning prerequisite to new material but is also a brief outline of the new material. The advanced organizer is unique among learning strategies in that, generally, students cannot be expected to create advanced organizers. This is the task of the designer or instructor.
    • Analog: In the United States, a single frame of video seen on broadcast television consists of 525 lines of information, placed close enough together to create a single image. By transmitting 30 of these images per second, the illusion of “full-motion video” is achieved. This system, called analog video, requires a great deal of space, or “bandwidth,” to transmit the video information to the receiving set, or TV monitor.
    • Analog vs. digital video: Until a few years ago, analog video was the only choice and could not be easily manipulated. Recently, however, the television industry has developed a device that translates, or “codes,” an analog video signal into its digital equivalent, enabling virtually the same information to be transmitted at several different frame rates and resolution levels, with predictable savings and trade-offs. The lower the resolution and frame rate, the less “bandwidth” required and the greater the savings, but the poorer the quality.
    • Asynchronous: Asynchronous literally means “not synchronous.” In telecommunications asynchronous transmission refers to data transmission in which there is no clocking signal; therefore, data can be sent at irregular intervals. In distance education applications, asynchronous is used to refer to interactions that are not “clocked”—not sent and received at the same time. An example of asynchronous transmission would be sending electronic mail: the party receiving the e-mail message does not have to be present at the time the message is sent. The message is “posted” for later retrieval.
    • Audio bridge: A synonym for bridge—an electronic device that interconnects three or more locations, usually over telephone lines.
    • Audioconferencing: Interactive audio communications between or among individuals or groups at two or more locations.
    • Audiographics: Using lines such as telephone (audio lines) to move data to another location where the data are converted to graphics.
    • Audio telecommunication: A term used to identify audioconferencing.
    • Backbone: Backbone refers to the copper cable, fiber-optic cable, coaxial cable, and/or microwave facilities required to carry signals from town to town. In the case of telephone companies, signals would be routed from a switch in one central office to another central office some miles away. For microwave, it would be transmitted from tower to tower. Only satellite technology, a direct site-to-site application, avoids the use of a backbone (unless you consider the satellite itself as performing that function). Satellite technologies are often used in rural areas as a “bypass” delivery method, where a lack of fiber-optic cable in the “last mile” would otherwise make delivery of distance education technologies impossible.
    • Bandwidth: The difference between the lowest and the highest frequencies that designated channels for communications are capable of carrying. Broader bandwidths carry greater amounts of information.
    • Bridge: An internetworking device that connects three or more locations, similar local area networks running on like protocols, connected over an electronic device (bridge); frequently, the connection for audio communication is carried over the telephone lines.
    • Bridging: The actual act of making the electronic connection, most often over telephone lines, between a number of points at various locations.
    • Broadcast signal: One-direction transmitted information made available to an unspecified audience.
    • Capital equipment budget: A budget that includes planning for larger durable items, including audiovisual and other electronic hardware. The actual complete plan may be segmented into phases across more than one budget year.
    • Chunking: This concept comprises a large assortment of organizing strategies. These strategies enable the rational ordering, classifying, or arranging of complex arrays. They aid persons in intellectual management of large amounts of data or events. These organizational strategies are preparatory in nature and, when used, are likely to aid comprehension.
    • Compressed video: Compressed video television signals are transmitted with much less than the usual bit rate. Full standard coding or broadcast quality television typically requires 45 to 90 megabits per second. Compressed video includes signals from 3 megabits per second (Mb/s) down to 56 kilo-bits per second (Kb/s). The lower bit rates typically involve some compromise in picture quality, particularly when there is rapid motion on the screen.
    • Computer-assisted design: Projects or sections of projects completed on computer that include design.
    • Computer-assisted instruction: Computer-based educational program or lesson developed with an instructor's assistance in which the learner(s) interacts with the material while using a computer.
    • Computer-based telecommunications system: One telecommunication system that uses as its platform computers for processing uplinking and downlinking, transmitting, and processing information.
    • Dedicated system: A specific system, like a telecommunications system, designated for that sole purpose. It may be set to run continuously 24 hours a day.
    • Direct broadcast satellite: A satellite that has a specific task identified for communications that includes transmitting video signals directly to a receiver system.
    • Distance education: Distance education in the United States is historically rooted in correspondence study, dating back to the 1880s (Froke, 1991). Distance education today includes these practices but has expanded to keep pace with today's technological advances. Recent distance education systems include combinations such as two-way interactive audio/video/computer-based technologies.
    • Distance education networks: These networks consist of four major components—backbone, last mile, terminals, and interactive video room equipment.
    • Downlink dish/receiver: The ground-level equipment set to receive the signals from a communications satellite.
    • Educational telecommunications system: A unit organized to contain the hardware, software (includes the directions for operating the hardware), at least one transport system that allows the communication of information from point to point, and the personnel who will plan, implement, manage, use, and evaluate the system.
    • Electronic mail (e-mail): Written word messages and/or documents transmitted electronically over a network between two individuals in two separate work centers. The e-mail may travel between two workers in one building or between individuals across a city, country, or hemisphere.
    • Facsimile: An image (word, picture, and/or graph) transmission system. The image is scanned in at the origination point to a transmitter. It is sent over phone lines to a receiving location where it is reconstructed into the original image on paper.
    • Fiber-optic cable: The introduction of fiber-optic cable during the past decade has revolutionized “wired” signal networking around the world. A tiny strand of clear fiber can transmit a hundred full-motion video signals simultaneously, taking the place of huge bundles of conventional twisted copper pairs of telephone lines. Although not available everywhere, fiber-optic cable is the “medium of choice” for most video, voice, and data applications, particularly in point-to-point situations.
    • Fiber-optic system: Another type of telecommunications system, it moves or transmits signals by sending pulsating beam or beams of light over a network of glass fiber.
    • Formative evaluation: The purpose of formative evaluation is to suggest ways of strengthening a course or program while it is being conducted. Formative evaluation is involved every time you use what you have learned about learners to determine strategy.
    • FM broadcast station multiplexing: Radio signals unique in themselves by the way their frequencies are modulated to allow simultaneous transmission of multiple signals.
    • Gateway: A device used to connect different computer networks using different communications architectures.
    • Interactive compressed video room equipment: The marketplace has become more competitive with new products every few months. Digital equipment pricing has finally reached parity with analog, but application continues to be a constant problem. Typically, compressed video networks run at 768 Kb/s or less. Video teleconferencing systems that rely on substantial compression (less than 768 Kb/s for video and audio) often reduce the performance of the audio to conserve bandwidth. The results are limited dynamic range, frequency response, and audio delays. These factors can be distracting in multiple-site sessions and may make it difficult to effectively present some material, such as foreign language classes. Still, compressed video is the most cost-effective delivery system and has proven successful for many applications in education, government, manufacturing, financial services, and medicine.
    • Interactive educational telecommunications system: The system established for the purpose of allowing two-way or greater communications between users (e.g., learner/instructor). Most often, this communication occurs in real time but may be set up for a delayed time for the receiving individuals to participate.
    • Interactive videodisc system: Computer-assisted instruction that uses videodiscs that can be designed to allow rapid, on the spot, changes in the lesson delivery (pace, direction, level of difficulty, etc.) based on the learner/student input to the system.
    • Interactivity: Because interaction implies a mutual or reciprocal action or influence between two or more parties, any interactive linkage, network, or device is one that permits such reciprocal action—usually (but not always) in real time.
    • Internet: A global collection of networks and communication interconnected through bridges, routers, or gateways.
    • Internetworking: Communicating between and among devices located across numerous networks.
    • Land-based lines and facilities: Telecommunications systems that transmit by use of land-based technology and facilities.
    • Last mile: Last mile refers to the distance between the backbone facility and the actual customer receiving site. In the case of telephone, it would be the facility interconnecting the telco “central office” with the given community site. In rural areas, last-mile construction has proven to be a major hurdle to the development of interactive video networks. Telcos customarily charge 100% of the cost to extend fiber from the central office to the receiving site. In small rural communities where the central office is often less than a mile from the receiving site, the sum could be $10,000 to $30,000 plus a monthly maintenance fee.
    • Local area network (LAN): A communications network that physically joins or links communication devices such as computers together and frequently joins them to mainframes in a small area. Typically, a LAN is configured in a bus, ring, or tree topology.
    • Media service center (multimedia support center): A designated section or support unit in an organization directed to assist with audio, video, and other multimedia technologies, including but not limited to computer technologies and applications.
    • Modeling: Computers and their applications used to create various levels of real-life representations of situations, tasks, or objects.
    • Modem: A device used to convert the digital data it receives into the needed analog signal for transmission over one of the telecommunications lines and likewise it converts the analog signals it receives over to data for reading by the receiver.
    • Multimodel design: The application or blending of more than one technique or technology to address a project or situation, such as distance education or distance learning.
    • On-demand system: An educational telecommunications system set up to operate at specific times when there are students/learners or other request for its use.
    • Operating lifetime: A length of time that research and/or experience has shown to be the average time that a device or system will operate reliably at a given use rate.
    • Origination site: The location from which the activity or program is carried out or transmitted.
    • Program budget: A listing of the expenditures and income for a single activity. It may include very detailed line-by-line information about the activity's expenses and income generated or it may be in a summary.
    • Receiving equipment: The equipment located at the downlink point where the communication is accepted, processed, and presented as a program or other learning activity.
    • Receive site: The location or point where the activity or program communication reception occurs.
    • Redundancy: The deliberate and systematic duplication within a telecommunications system for the express purpose of protecting against primary telecommunication system major malfunctions or failure.
    • Ring: One of the LAN topologies. In this design, the workstations are connected in a closed loop like a train track set. The users enter data into their communications device, or computer, and the data are transmitted in only one direction around the ring. The data can be then read by all stations on the loop.
    • Satellite communications: The age of communications satellites, placed in geosynchronous orbit above the earth's equator, eliminated much of the need for land-based microwave networks, because a single “uplink” could transmit a signal back down to earth. Most domestic satellites have a “conus footprint,” which means the signal can be picked up by a receive dish anywhere in the continental United States. Because broadcasting to thousands of sites costs the same as broadcasting to one site, satellite communications have become the most cost-effective point-to-mass technologies to date, and many national distributors of live and pretaped programs use satellite broadcasts to distribute their programs.
    • Sending equipment: Telecommunication hardware and software located at the originating site for the purpose of projecting/sending a program signal to the designated reception sites.
    • Sequencing: Sequencing means to divide appropriate information into steps and stages that will help learners understand and retain materials. Possible types of sequencing include topic-by-topic, chronological, place-to-place, concentric circles, and problem-centered sequencing.
    • Simulation and gaming: Teaching techniques that model an event, procedure, or skill by imitating it or replicating it. The learner/student is involved with a high level of interaction as he or she applies strategies and/or decision making to the scenarios.
    • Slow-scan television: A telecommunication technology using the telephone that captures still-frame pictures and displays them on television monitors.
    • Synchronous transmission: Synchronous transmission refers to the fixed transmission of data between sender and receiver. In distance education, the term synchronous is used to refer to interactions that are “clocked”—that is, interactions that must be sent and received at the same time. An example of a synchronous distance education application is computer-mediated conferencing (CMC): The person initiating the conference expects to interact electronically in real time with a person or persons at various sites.
    • T1 and DS3 telephone lines: Some of the slower frame rates can be transmitted over single telephone lines. Near full-motion picture quality images can be transmitted over bundles of telephone lines (called T1 lines). At its fastest frame rate and resolution (DS3 rate), the digital signal is considered the equivalent of an analog signal and requires bandwidth that approaches the bandwidth required to transmit analog video.
    • Telecommunications: Telecommunications is defined in Newton's Telecom Dictionary (1991) as the art and science of communicating over a distance by telephone, telegraph, and radio.
    • Teleconferencing: Teleconferencing combines the prefix tele and the word conferencing, with tele meaning “at a distance” and conferencing implying a meeting. Therefore, the combined word, teleconferencing, is used to describe “meeting at a distance.” In the United States, the word teleconferencing has become a generic term for all kinds of meetings conducted via communication technology. The word video is added to teleconferencing or conferencing (videoconferencing) to describe meeting at a distance, using two-way audio and video communication (Portway & Lane, 1992).
    • Terminal emulation: When computers have the ability to operate like another type of terminal linked on a network or to another processing unit.
    • Terminal equipment: This equipment is used to transmit and receive video, audio, and data signals to and from other sites. CODECs (coders-decoders) are used for digital video on copper or fiber networks. Laser-based terminals are used for linear broadband (analog) video fiber applications together with modulators and demodulators, which are also used for coaxial cable.
    • Topology: The interconnections of end points or stations to networks. Frequently used topologies include ring, bus, and tree.
    • Transmission equipment: Various types of telecommunications hardware and software used to transmit signal to the reception location(s).
    • Uplink: The equipment located where the telecommunication signals originate. It may include signal dishes, fiber-optic, or other communications lines in addition to other electronic equipment used, for example, to transmit the signal to a communications satellite.
    • Video telecommunications system: One- or two-way telecommunications systems with the capability to transmit or transmit and receive video signals of full motion or lesser quality type between sites.
    • Video teleconferencing: The real-time, and usually two-way, interactive transmission of digitized video images between two or more locations is called video teleconferencing or teleconferencing. Teleconferencing requires a wideband transmission facility. Transmitted images may be freeze-frame (in which the television screen is repainted every few seconds to every 20 seconds) or full motion. Bandwidth requirements for two-way videoconferencing range from 6 MHz for analog, full-motion, full-color, commercial grade TV to two 56 Kb/s lines for digitally encoded reasonably full-motion, full-color to 1,544 Mb/s for very good quality, full-color, full-motion TV.
    • Voice: A telecommunication system able to transmit two-way audio communication alone or in combination with other content, such as written data, one- or two-way video, and so on.
    • VSAT (very small aperture terminal): VSAT refers to a relatively small satellite antenna, typically 1.5 to 3.0 meters in diameter, used for transmitting and receiving data communications. You often see VSATs on top of retail stores, which use them for transmitting data. More recently, VSATs are being used to transmit compressed video signals.


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    About the Authors

    Marcia L. Williams is currently Director of Telemedicine at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in New York City. She earned her undergraduate BS degree from Duquesne University and her MEd degree in corporate Training and Development from Pennsylvania State University. She received her PhD in Educational Human Resource Development from Texas A&M University. Her area of specialization is faculty and curriculum development for distance learning environments. During the past 15 years, she has accumulated a wide range of experiences with faculty and curriculum development in the diverse fields of education, health care, business, and government. Past work experiences include distance learning and telehealth consultant for an international manufacturer of interactive mediaconferencing equipment, as well as teaching in both universities and health care institutions. Her background includes training and consulting in Australia, Canada, Europe, Malaysia, Singapore, and Mexico.

    Kenneth Paprock is on the faculty at Texas A&M University and works with Mexico and numerous Latin American countries as the International Coordinator for Educational Human Resource Development. He received the 1995 University Award from Texas A&M University for his contribution to supporting international programs. He also coordinates the Training and Development academic specialty and directs the Training and Development Certification Program at Texas A&M University. He earned his undergraduate and master's degrees from UCLA and holds a PhD in Adult, Higher and Continuing Education from the University of Illinois. He has 20 years' experience in human resource development in business, industry, and health care. He has consulted, lectured, and taught across the United States and internationally in Mexico, Hong Kong, Germany, Greece, England, and Scotland. His works have been published in the United States, Mexico, France, England, Canada, Yugoslavia, and Rumania.

    Barbara Covington is currently a faculty member with Webster University, Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri, and a health care systems software/database trouble shooter for Mellott and Associates in Houston, Texas. She earned her undergraduate BS degree from the University of Florida, her Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and her PhD in Educational Human Resource Development from Texas A&M University. She has more than 26 years of experience in civilian amd military health care, distance education, and health care informatics training, development, and program design. She is a retired U.S. Army Colonel. She has traveled and taught extensively throughout the world, most recently in Germany, Panama, and Mexico.

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