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Adult Learning Activities | California Distance Learning ProgramCDLP

What is Distance Learning?


Distance Learning Design

This section is a wide ranging discussion on designing a distance learning program. The level of detail goes from elementary to quite detailed.

Distance learning (DL) assumes that the learner is capable of self-direction, and the teacher is more facilitative than directive. While it is consistent with the precepts of andragogy and adult learning theory and practice, distance learning requires administrators and instructors to rethink instructional strategies and modalities, develop mechanisms to determine when and how to use DL and which learners can best benefit from it. A screening procedure to determine learning level, and a guided opportunity to experience the educational medium will help filter out learners who are not likely to function well in a self directed learning environment.

Distance learning usually comes in one or two forms — (1) distance learning only instruction where the learner operates independently for much of the instructional process; and (2) hybrid situations where classroom instruction is supplemented by distance learning. Both models have their advantages and disadvantages. Much of our discussion applies to both models, but focuses more on the distance learning only approach.

Elements in Distance Learning Design

Distance learning, like any learning intervention, is made up of a series of components or elements. It should be described in its entirety, since it may operate somewhat separately from traditional instruction. These are some of the components to be addressed in designing a distance learning program.

It is not unusual for an adult education program to initially experiment with distance learning, using a small, low tech intervention. The CDLP staff encourages this approach and recommend using the video checkout model as the intervention.

The Constructivist Approach

A learning model becoming accepted for distance learning is based on the constructivist theory that views learning as socially constructed and situated in a specific context — the learner constructs meaning for him or herself. The model is based on the presumption that learning occurs in collaboration with others and in the social world of the learners. The design challenge becomes one of creating learning modules and curricula that require the learner to mediate and construct meaning with the help of others. More emphasis is placed on facilitating the learning and learning experience and less on the content. The communications and interactive aspects of learning take on greater importance.

In our judgment this approach has particular utility with higher level English as a second language (ESL) and adult basic education instruction (ABE) design and less for GED preparation. For more information go to constructivism.

Ties to Your Technology Infrastructure

Initially distance learning design may or may not be tied to creating the organization's technology infrastructure. However, over time the ability to provide learning alternatives to adults outside the traditional classroom requires evaluating technological alternatives.

The technology utilization literature identifies two viewpoints on how to build a organization's technological infrastructure. Usually it's believed that a organization with fewer rules, greater independence, and feeling of self security makes innovation and creativity more likely. This view implies that technological innovation is a series of discrete technical decisions that will occur based on informal relations in the organization. This view holds that one cannot systematically plan technological changes.

Illustration of connected people

However, given the cost and implications for poor technology planning decisions, it is important that technological changes should take place through more formally planned strategies and plans, i.e. innovation. Successful innovation of a technology strategy depends on the infrastructure and culture of the organization. New products or initiatives usually are dependent on knowledge being brought in from outside by the infrastructure. Therefore, the administrator's strategic challenges are to determine:

In practice most adult basic education innovation trails far behind in adapting new technologies and instructional strategies that include learning technologies. CDLP staff encourages adult education programs to develop learner centered technology plans that help identify opportunities and problems, resources, and priorities. The model is presented in the Planning and Administration module.

Learning Technology Standards

Standards are important to the development of new processes and technologies. They insure interoperability and design conformance. Three organizations are the focal point for learning technology standards:

The IEEE hyperlink provides information on the Learning Technology Standards Committee working groups.

In addition the IMS Global Learning Consortium Inc. (IMS) was formed to provide standards for learning technology and especially content metadata and has moved into other areas such as content packaging. Much of the current work surrounds creating reuseable learning content or objects. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) also provides leadership in extending the Internet.

The Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI) is a software-development project of several colleges and universities to develop software that will help professors build Web pages for their courses and manage administrative functions like grading and testing. In the process, they are developing a set of technical standards, known as application programming interfaces, or API's, which are rules for how the software will operate. One goal of the initiative is to build free course-management software.

Supporting Innovation

In order to maintain the innovation process, the adult education provider should communicate regularly with other organizations involved in similar activities. Fostering this network development process has been central to California's development strategy. This is referred to as fostering and supporting distance learning "pioneers."

The infrastructure of innovation and invention is based on two things:

Links between adult education providers, outside innovators, and content development groups will insure a long term process. Some technology changes are not discovered in the networks but in an ad hoc environment. Openness to these possibilities is important. Keep in mind that even though the adult basic education sector is well developed, it does not imply a well developed technological infrastructure.

Strategic Implications for a Distance Learning Infrastructure

The adult education provider should have two main concerns:

Technological strategy is also political, especially in the early stages of development when one has to choose a way to proceed. If one participates in this political process, the chance of benefiting will increase. It is essential that administrators know where technology is situated in the general strategy (i.e. the big picture).

General Guidelines

One distance learning goal is to have course curricula offered in multiple formats — teacher led, CD-ROM and DVD, video, and Internet. These choices when blended appropriately can effectively serve the learning styles and life circumstances of most potential learners.

The right technology used appropriately can greatly enhance the learning experience. But instructional technology used in the wrong way can result in a waste of time and money. The key to choosing the right technology to support learning is to match the technology to the learner and the learning context - both in terms of learners’ skills and abilities and well their access to the technology.

Accessibility is a critical concern. The best designed Web site with the latest multimedia technologies is of no use to someone who does not have access to the Internet, does not have the required plug-ins, or does not know how to download them.

Learning materials and systems cannot be separated from the courses and venues in which they will be used. Consequently, the materials development process, whenever possible, should be integrated into the instructional planning process. This requires materials designers to engage in an overall curriculum planning process to help ensure focus and product compatibility

Instructional design practice is organized from a set of objectives or learning outcomes. From these outcomes come the curriculum, strategies and skills, and comprehension expectations. The contexts vary widely based on the subject matter.

Course Definition

A course is a collection of closely related instructional components that have structure and sequence aimed at assisting learners to develop specific knowledge and skills. A course of study is designed for the characteristics of a specific learner group to meet their specific needs and interests. A program of study may consist of multiple courses.

For our purposes, a course may be of any duration and it need not have sub-units, however they are likely. It could be a semester-long citizenship course, a vocational training program, a pre-employment job preparation course, an online self-directed certification course, or a self-paced CD-ROM or videotape series. In most cases, media will support a course that is mediated by an instructor.

Unit Definition

All but the shortest courses consist of series of logical units of information. Like chapters in a book, these units include related materials that in sum make up the course. Units design may be in a sequential order or stand alone, not requiring any specific order. A course could mix units that are sequential and non-sequential.

Units are typically comprised of multiple lessons, which are where instructional materials are presented. In the case of a stand-alone video series, the course may be comprised of multiple videotapes (units) that have several different lessons on each tape.

Lesson Definition

A lesson is a discreet instructional session that includes a limited number of learning tasks designed to meet the needs of students based on the course content. Lessons are developed to cover a logical segment of learning tasks. Instructional materials are used at the lesson level.

Technology Adoption

During periods of rapid social and technological evolution, change and disruptive technologies are experienced and utilized by different people and organizations at different times. Unfortunately, in the CDLP experience, adult basic educators are late in perceiving, understanding, and adopting new instructional technologies. Consequently, adult basic education providers should conservatively develop our tools and techniques.

The accepted model for stages of technology adoption is a bell curve with the stages of the technology adoption life cycle described from left to right as:

Early Market
Main Street
End of Life

Image of bell curve

Innovators and Early Adoptors fall within the Early Market group. Early Majority and Late Majority users are in the Main Street users group while the Laggards fall within the End of Life grouping. The tools and resources available to support distance learning design are determined, in part, based on where the delivery technology is in the technology life cycle. Usually in will be in the "main street" or "end of life" stage for adult basic education.

The implications for adult education are that proven, widely accepted technologies are generally used, but their usefulness may be limited by emerging, more powerful technologies.

Supporting Lifelong Learning

Implicit in all product development is the goal of supporting knowledge integration and lifelong learning. This also entails developing students' skills at autonomous learning since students need to continue to integrate and reflect on their understanding subsequent to their science instruction to become lifelong learners. Thus, both curriculum and assessment activities need to encourage students to reflect on their own learning. If ideas are viewed as right or wrong, students may lack the motivation to reflect and solely seek to learn what is right. Instruction and assessment that support students' reflective processes and their understanding of their own alternative views can contribute to lifelong learning.

Targeted Learners

At the start of this section it is noted that the ideal distance learner is expected to be more self directed than the average adult basic learner. However, many practitioners have told us that, while they agree with this perspective, their target learners are those who cannot otherwise access learning. Within that group, some find out that the absence of structure is not useful for them. Still it is important to try to screen out learners who would not be comfortable is a self directed learning environment. This is done during the enrollment and orientation process.

Build or Buy?

Distance learning materials can be developed from scratch, purchased, or adopted. Regardless of the approach, the resulting product should be based on firm design and learning principles.

In most cases adult educators will utilize existing materials (video tapes, online resources) and add activities and communications tasks that "wrap around" the central products. This is done to enhance the product, adopt it to meet established standards or frameworks, or adopt it to the learners who will be using them.

Creating Distance Learning Materials

Learning Principles

A 1999 research document entitled - Materials Development Framework For Courses Targeting Low Literacy and Limited-English Speaking Adults - sets the basis for our design strategies. The full version can be found at Click on Papers.

The adult learning principles identified are:

  1. Adult learners are goal driven.
  2. Language and literacy are social processes that involve interaction with others.
  3. Language and literacy development require risk taking.
  4. Language and literacy develop when the target language is slightly above the current level of proficiency of the user.
  5. Language and literacy development require focus, engagement and practice.
  6. Language and literacy are multi-dimensional and require different kinds of interactions with different kinds of genres.
  7. Language and literacy develop through interactions with tasks that require cognitive involvement.
  8. Language and literacy develop more deeply if skills are connected to an overall topic or theme.

These principles should be kept in mind in all design work.

Likewise the state of Massachusetts System for Adult Basic Education Support (SABES) has developed an evolving set of resources to help address its state standards. These resources have broad application in any state.

Learning Outcomes and Materials Development Objectives

Learner outcomes specify student behaviors desired at a particular developmental point. These outcomes provide the basis for creating worthwhile learning experiences, for setting appropriate expectations, and for assessing the extent of learning attained.

Distance Learning Materials Should:

1. Successfully engage adults functioning at low literacy and limited English levels in improving their literacy and language skills and capabilities.

Are the materials appropriate?

Are the materials considered worthwhile?

1.1 Do the materials match up with learners' goals?

1.2 Which features are most successful in engaging these learners?

1.3 How do learners, instructors, and other facilitators respond to the materials components?

1.4 How are learners and facilitators using the materials?

1.5 How are the materials related to other materials and integrated into instructional strategies?

2. Function effectively making use of multi-media features to foster learning.

2.1 How easy to use are the materials?

2.2 Do learners take advantage of what specific technologies offer?

2.3 Which pathways and resources do learners make the most use of?

2.4 What pathways and resources might be missing?

2.5 What is an effective time commitment to expect from users?

2.6 What are the hardware, software, and cognitive problems that learners experience that inhibit use?

2.7 What supports do learners use and need to use these materials effectively?

3. Have a significant, positive impact on learners' performance

3.1 Do the materials do what they claim?

3.2 Do materials teach language and literacy, and if so which dimensions are addressed?

3.3 What product focuses are most meaningful for learners and learning facilitators?

3.4 In which skills development areas do learners achieve most through these materials?

4. Be useful and effective for learners and learning facilitators in different learning contexts

4.1 What preparation is needed for instructors and facilitators to work productively with the materials?

4.2 What preparation or support is needed by learners with different learning profiles?

4.3 What problems do teachers/facilitators experience in working with learners on these materials?

4.4 How do instructors use the materials to work with students?

5. Suggest a materials development framework beyond the current work?

5.1 What are steps in product testing that will provide short and longer term utility?

5.2 How can we document learning achievement?

5.3 What technology features are important for short, medium, and longer term acceptability?

Product Phase Focus of Input Respondents
Concept Why is the product needed? What will it help learners do? How does the project fit into existing products? What are projected learning outcomes? Funders, Peers
Proof of concept (i.e. rapid prototype demonstration) Is the approach sound, can the product be implemented, What are product standards/ what would successful implementation look like, Who would best benefit from the product? Funders, Peers, Product, Media and Subject Matter Specialists, Instructors, Learners
Initial development phase complete (alpha test) Does it implement the key design standards? Are the product standards sufficient to accomplish project goals, Does the product function as intended, Is the learners' response to the product as intended? Who functions best with the product, what can be strengthened about it? What sort of outcomes might be achieved with it? What sort of support is necessary to use it and sustain outcomes? Product, media and subject matter specialists, instructors, learners, program administrators, resource professionals
Pre-release (beta test) What outcomes are achieved with it? What are use characteristics and problems? What sort of support is necessary for use? What bugs need to be fixed in the product? Instructors, Learners, program administrators, resource professionals
On-going, for use at times strategic for product enhancement and versioning How are users needs changing? What sorts of augmentation are necessary to the product to increase relevance and enhance or sustain learning? What sorts of augmentation are necessary to enhance power of instructor facilitation with the product? What bugs need to be fixed. Instructors, learners, resource professionals

Key to a successful, cost-effective strategy is creating a specific plan for each product which takes into account the development phase, the specific feedback issues under consideration, and how best to provide cost-efficient data.

Involving Users in Materials Development

Involving potential users, especially learners, in multi-media product development is extremely important. The context for this involvement usually is formative research. Formative research is different from some other kinds of research (e.g. summative or descriptive research) in that it solicits feedback for the purpose of making necessary changes based on that input. Formative research designs vary depending on the themes being explored, specific questions being asked, subject, available time, and types of respondents.
Whatever the specific anchoring questions, however, successful formative research requires:

Note the last bullet in particular. Formative research assumes that the product being evaluated can be changed and improved. Its aim is make the product(s) as useful and productive as possible. Therefore the research plans can, do, and should change. If thorough product testing is desired for certification, documentation, product improvement, or versioning, a systematic research plan is necessary in order to keep the research cost-effective.

Strategic Stakeholder Involvement

There are multiple points to involve users in product development. The following list identifies stages at which stakeholder involvement is very useful. They are:

Stakeholders can include experts in the field, instructors, learners, resource teachers, teacher trainers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and learners' family members and networks. Not all these stakeholders can be involved equally in each stage of product development. Make your choices according to the desired outcomes.

Cost Effective Research Strategies

Each stage of product development poses different formative research questions and therefore call for distinct methods which involve different subsets of stakeholders. The range of data collection strategies used in formative research include:

Among these methods the focus group techniques tend to elicit more information than others. Focus groups use oppositional interview strategies (asking members of the group to formulate pro and con responses that address each others' concerns), user observations employing 'thinking-out-loud' learner interaction strategies (asking learners why they are doing something a certain way and what a specific behavior means to them), and product-integrated feedback forms used in situations where observers query learners about their performance and that performance also is captured by the application.

Strategies differ according to which respondent sub-group they are best suited to, the kinds of data they are best designed to provide, the extent to which they can provide information about both how the product works and why, and which product development phase they are most suited to. This is described below.

At the product concept stage, it's useful to have experts on subject matter, learning process, technology, and the learners themselves review the concept to avoid spending money and time if the original assumptions are not viable. Multi-media products inevitably are built on a central metaphor or navigation strategy which underlies developers' learning environment. It is crucial to test this concept early on. This is a paper/desk review from a small group of product subject matter experts and key stakeholders.

The proof of concept stage is quick test of the development strategy, for one lesson of one product. It's useful for testing product assumptions and structure, navigational tools, central images and treatment, and user reactions to the concept in general. It is not good for testing product effectiveness, since it's not a full implementation. Feedback on the concept and proof of concept is best from individual, key stakeholders, in an informal environment. Interviews or one-on-one meetings, and individual observations of use, are usually appropriate for this purpose, with a small number of targeted users and stakeholders.

The alpha test is the point at which the product is ready for full use in its proper environment (i.e. as audio/video, on the web, at home, in classrooms). At this point that systematic feedback from learners and teachers/facilitators is essential. The evaluation focus is generally on overall appeal of content, clarity of instructions, ease of use and navigation, needed support, and how users interact with the product. Results are used to enhance product usability, acceptability, effectiveness, and impact on the field. The alpha test results builds the foundation for the pre-release version of the product-the beta test. Data collection strategies here include focus groups, data capture techniques incorporated into the technology itself, and a combination of interview with observational performance analysis. This utilizes a larger and more representative group of users for analysis than the proof of concept.

The beta test is a pre-release version, where the concept and strategies in use are set, and (hopefully) only bugs are being worked out. It focuses as much on the instructor and facilitator, as the learner, to be sure the issues in roll-out are addressed successfully. Data collection strategies here are generally surveys, interviews or focus groups, and product-integrated feedback forms. Data collection integrated into the product, with the user's consent, is also a possibility. Respondents here include the range of users (ideally a 10% sample of site(s) is used) and potential users.

Delta tests examine the importance of change in the product. While the alpha and beta tests are the traditional stages of product development, development does not stop with release of the product. If it does, the product soon becomes outmoded, and some of the investment is lost, as new designers re-invent the wheel. It's crucial to have learners and instructors continue to question and document the utility of the product as input to new or continuing developers. Capacity for passive collection and processing of ongoing feedback from learners and other stakeholders is therefore crucial. This essentially is the delta test-ongoing product implementation during which users indicate, through a variety of mechanisms, the importance of change in particular features (content, resources or functionality) or the value that would be added to the product by development of new features.

Rich, Systematic and Timely Data on Strategically Significant Questions

Formative evaluation often is interactive. This is an important strength and helps make the research cost-effective. The evaluation activities should be integrated with the results from one set of data collection activities influencing other phases. The specific questions asked by a specific developer about his or her products at any phase will vary depending on the goals and objectives of the product itself, the audience for which it is targeted, what has been tested previously and the findings related to this product, and the work on similar products or issues on which the evaluation is building. This does not mean that formative evaluation can be ad hoc. To the contrary, in order to be successful any formative evaluation is consciously planned and structured to provide cost-effective systematic information about:

Specifically, formative evaluation is concerned about how learners and other users needs are taken into account in product concept, navigation, look and feel, accessibility of instructional approach, product content and incorporated exercises/activities.

Any research plan has to specify the key research questions related to product development priorities, the data required to answer the questions, who should provide the information, how the information should be collected, how the data collected will be used to answer the questions, and both the sufficiency of the anticipated information for answering the question and strategy for making use of the information collected.

Whatever the specific questions, a good research design is concerned with whether the information is collected in such a way that:

As a result of involving a representative group of users in addressing the research questions, formative evaluations should provide the data necessary to significantly, reliably and validly inform product development decisions, the understanding of the factors which affect materials functioning and success, the marketing the product to potential users, and decisions about future or further materials development.

Learners - Who should be represented and what does representative mean?

Potential learners can be diverse in many characteristics that profoundly affect learning objectives and abilities. The high stakes issue is how to identify the factors that affect differential success with the product so that the fewest number of respondents can provide the most useful information. The main strategy recommended for optimizing cost-effectiveness will be based on matrix-sampling techniques, utilizing techniques from television and radio marketing-audience segmentation.

The audience segment concept profiles learners in terms of factors that affect their experience of the product. These profiles (or series of factors) are termed 'target audience or user segments', and are subgroups of learners whose characteristics, background, experiences, and priority pressing concerns lead them to interact with instruction and instructional materials differently.

Another way of describing user segments, then, is as frameworks built from learner characteristics that have been identified by developers and evaluators to affect their interaction with the materials. These characteristics vary in terms of those which are more noticeable (and therefore more easily screened-i.e. determined directly from interaction with the learner or based on the learner's own knowledge) and those that are less noticeable (or less easily screened). Some learner characteristics, for example, may not come into play in other instructional settings, or the learner or instructor may not be systematically conscious that the characteristic exists. Keyboarding skills is an example of such a characteristic. A key feature of the audience segmentation strategy is to identify all the important characteristics and sample on the characteristics that are the most easily determined.


Product quality and effectiveness hinge on serving targeted stakeholders, especially the prospective learners appropriately. Formative evaluation is the method to involve them in the product development and testing. This aspect of product development should not be overlooked or given lip service attention.

Copyright and Fair Use

With the advent of the Internet and the digital age, teachers and administrators are forced to reexamine how copyright protections apply in a time where creative works are widely available in cyberspace and the technology to access such material improves nearly daily.
Copyright applies only to creative works, meaning books, plays, movies, music — in short, any work where someone had to exercise their powers of creativity and imagination. The courts generally will extend copyright protections to any work where even a slender element of creativity was involved.

U.S. copyright law defines the extent to which such works are the exclusive domain of the creator and whomever the creator shares the ownership with, for instance, a publisher. Copyright law says that the creators of certain literary and artistic works have the right to ensure that unauthorized people do not use their work for unauthorized purposes. The creators hold the copyright. They can give up their exclusive right to publishers or other authorized entities for a limited time or permanently.
Intellectual property law evolves in response to technological change. Copyright law, in particular, responds to technological challenges for authors and copyright owners, from the printing press to digital audio recorders, and everything in between - photocopiers, radio, television, videocassette recorders, cable television and satellites. The use of computer technology - such as digitization - and communications technology - such as fiber optic cable - has had an enormous impact on the creation, reproduction and dissemination of copyrighted works.

Legislation and court rulings have held that people have a significant right to make use of exceptions within the copyright law to avoid lawsuits. Copyright law is a federal law, and so the law does not vary from state to state (although the interpretation of the law may be different in different courts.

Electronic instructional materials (clip art, video, audio, software, or graphics) should be examined carefully for copyright considerations. This applies to materials purchased for use and locally developed materials. Likewise, the copyright implications for use of printed material that draws from other written work should be carefully considered. Copyright owners have the full right to use their materials exclusively, subject to written agreements. In preparing instructional materials for electronic or distance learning use:

Maintain a file with the releases, license arrangements, and copyright documentation. Likewise be certain to copyright any original intellectual property and courseware produced by your organization. Establish policies about the derivative use of the components. Place a copyright notice and symbol by the name of the copyright holder or the name of your work, state the year of the copyright, and include the phrase "All Rights Reserved."

Register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. To register a work, send the following three elements in the same envelope or package to the Register of Copyrights, Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559:

This information changes and should be double checked. Likewise, pending federal telecommunications legislation will impact federal copyright law, especially regarding electronic media.


Copyright considerations require careful thought in the design and development of instructional materials. It is easy to add clip art, articles, diagrams, video clips, and photos in multi-media, videotaped, and on-line learning materials without considering the copyright implications. Purchasing a copyrighted product does not allow ownership of the material. For example when a videotape is purchased, it is still owned by the original creator. Widely distributed materials can face substantial scrutiny and potential litigation.

Copyright is a shorthand term describing a set of enforceable rights to prevent unauthorized persons from making a copy of a "work" for a period of time. The person entitled to exercise these rights may choose not to do so and donate the work to the public domain, thereby allowing all comers to freely copy. If a work is not donated to the public domain, during the period in which copyright is enforceable there are a number of circumstances in which persons may freely copy the work, the copyright notwithstanding.

The "fair use" privilege defines a set of circumstances in which copies may be freely made, as does the First Amendment. After a time, copyright expires and a work enters the public domain. Given the limited nature of the grant of rights that define copyright, is the classification of copyright as intellectual property simply a rhetorical exercise to assist publishers in their efforts to strengthen their monopoly rights?

The courts have derived three basic requirements for copyright protection originality, creativity and fixation.

The requirements of originality and creativity are derived from the statutory qualification that copyright protection extends only to "original works of authorship." To be original, a work merely must be one of independent creation - i.e., not copied from another. There is no requirement that the work be novel (as in patent law), unique or ingenious. While there must also be a modicum of creativity in the work, the level of creativity required is exceedingly low; "even a slight amount will suffice."

The final requirement for copyright protection is fixation in a tangible medium of expression. Protection attaches automatically to an eligible work of authorship the moment the work is sufficiently fixed. Congress provided considerable room for technological advances in the area of fixation by noting that the medium may be "now known or later developed."

Works Not Protected

Certain works of authorship are expressly excluded from protection under the Copyright Act, regardless of their originality, creativity and fixation. Copyright protection, for example, does not extend to any "idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied" in such work. Thus, although a magazine article on how to tune a car engine is protected by copyright, that protection extends only to the expression of the ideas, facts and procedures in the article, not the ideas, facts and procedures themselves, no matter how creative or original they may be. Anyone may "use" the ideas, facts and procedures in the article to tune an engine - or to write another article on the same subject. What may not be taken is the expression used by the original author to describe or explain those ideas, facts and procedures.

Copyright protection is not extended under the Copyright Act to works of the U.S. Government. A work of the U.S. Government may, therefore, be reproduced and distributed.

Term of Protection

Generally, a copyrighted work is protected for the length of the authors life plus another 50 years. In the case of joint works, copyright protection is granted for the length of the life of the last surviving joint author plus another 50 years. Works made for hire, as well as anonymous and pseudonymous works, are protected for a term of either 75 years from the year of first publication or 100 years from the year of creation, whichever is shorter. When the term of protection for a copyrighted work expires, the work is said to "fall into the public domain."

Exclusive Rights

The Copyright Act grants to the copyright owner of a work a bundle of exclusive rights:

These rights, in most instances, have been well elaborated by Congress and the courts. For the most part, the provisions of the current copyright law can serve the needs of creators, owners, distributors and users of copyrighted works in the national information infrastructure environment.

Limitations of the Exclusive Rights

The exclusive rights of copyright owners are not without exception. The Copyright Act specifies certain violations of a copyright owner's exclusive rights that the copyright owner cannot prevent.

Fair Use

The most significant and, perhaps, murky of the limitations on a copyright owners exclusive rights is the doctrine of fair use.

Fair use is an affirmative defense to any action for copyright infringement. It is potentially available with respect to all unauthorized uses of works in all media. If it is proven, then the use may continue without any obligation on the user's part to seek the permission of the copyright owner, pay royalties, or the like. The doctrine of fair use is rooted in some 200 years of judicial decisions and is, in general, most likely to be found when a user incorporates some of a pre–existing work into a new work of authorship. It is thus widely accepted, for example, that quotation from a book or play by a reviewer, or the capturing of copyrighted music in a television news broadcast is fair use. As one moves away from such favored uses into the area of uses that are - for practical purposes - competitive with the copyright owners exploitation of the work, the ease of analysis shrinks (as the number of litigated cases grows).

Before examining the doctrine developed by the courts, it is useful to examine the statutory language concerning fair use. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phono records or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

If your multimedia work serves traditional "fair use" purposes - criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research - the teacher has a better chance of falling within the bounds of fair use than if the work is a sold to the public for entertainment purposes and for commercial gain.

Online Resources

Library of Congress provides good information on copyright forms and up to date information on copyright law

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) intellectual property web page

Standards and Frameworks

Learning materials and systems cannot be separated from the courses and venues in which they will be used. Consequently, this discussion includes the materials development process into the instructional planning process. Although all materials to be developed are not designed for specific courses, materials designers are asked to engage in an overall curriculum planning process to help ensure focus and product compatibility. By following the preceding guidelines, it is more likely that the products will fit within a wide variety of learning frameworks.

Integration with Other Standards Frameworks

Several different adult basic education taxonomic frameworks provide useful guidance for describing the knowledge, skills and strategies to be acquired. These include those developed by CASAS, SCANS, EFF, and others, including state standards for basic education and English as a Second Language. No single framework covers all of the needs and skill sets of adult learners. However, most frameworks address similar dimensions of language, literacy, and learning. In our scheme, knowledge, skills and strategies are bundled into the following clusters:

  1. Spoken and Written Information
  2. Interpersonal Communication
  3. Self-Expression and Reflection
  4. How English Works
  5. Team Work and Collaboration
  6. Problem Solving and Decision Making
  7. Accessing Resources and Navigating Systems
  8. Numeracy
  9. Dispositions
  10. Technology

While there is significant overlap among existing frameworks, they nevertheless represent differing conceptions of language, literacy and learning.

Equipped for the Future focuses on what learners need to know and be able to do in their roles as family members, workers, and community members.

CASAS outlines basic competencies related to life skills areas such as communication, consumer economics, community resources, health, employment, government and law, computation, learning how to learn and independent living skills.

SCANS focuses many of its competencies on areas related to problem solving and decision-making, including the management of resources, information handling, interpersonal communication and technology. But SCANS also mentions basic skills, related to reading, writing and math, and includes thinking skills and personal qualities.

Concentration on Learner Strategies

A design framework is recommended that focuses on the learner strategies needed to (1) attain the skills outlined in the other frameworks, (2) negotiate the challenges of daily life, and (3) enjoy language, literacy and learning to the fullest. Teachers working within existing frameworks and course outlines should be able to use newly created multimedia materials to create courses, materials, and tasks that fit into their scheme.

There is no one right way to design or define a course. For more information on adult education standards and frameworks go to Cyberstep for a detailed discussion of creating adult learning materials within existing or emerging frameworks. Click on "Papers" and then on "The Cyberstep Course Development Framework."

Instructional Design References

A very good reference is The Encyclopedia of Educational Technology edited by Bob Hoffman, San Diego State University.

The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research's Project IDEAL is a consortium of states working to develop effective distance education programs for adult learners.

Persons deeply interested in instructional design trends and thinking can access Learning Technology, an IEEE publication.


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