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Adult Learning Activities | California Distance Learning ProgramCDLP

What is Distance Learning?


Distance Learning Planning and Administration

This section applies to most adult basic education programs and specific application for California adult educators, especially adult schools. It discusses the design, administration and assessment of distance learning.


Your adult education program should have a technology plan in place. It provides the guidelines to set priorities. California has developed a good model and an eight step process to create a technology plan.

Adult Education Technology Plan

The CDLP recommends that adult education programs routinely survey their learners regarding their access to and interest in computers and the Internet. Determining learner access to video tape and DVD players should be documented. This information will help plan your intervention strategy.

Including distance learning in your instructional strategies assumes there is a need. A learner centered needs assessment addressing the demand for distance learning, identifying potential learners, their learning styles, and delivery system alternatives should be the starting point. The goal is to define the most effective and cost effective methods to serve the targeted learner within your technical capabilities.

An overall distance learning goal is to serve learners who cannot or will not attend traditional classroom courses. Motivation to participate (readiness to learn) has been used as a surrogate for self directedness. However, screening should occur to try to determine whether the prospective learner can work comfortably in a self directed environment. This is easier said than done, given the lack of predictive tools. However, it is important that instructors or facilitators involve learners in diagnosing their own learning needs and identifying their learning objectives at enrollment.

Stephen Brookfield's work in self directed learning, critical reflection, and experiential learning sets the conceptual framework for defining the context for independent learning. [See for example Stephen D. Brookfield, Developing Critical Thinkers, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1987.] He notes that self-directed learning requires that adults take control of their learning, setting their own learning goals, and determining which learning methods to use. The cross-cultural dimension must be taken into account in promoting self directedness as should the adult's previous experiences. Critical reflection incorporates learning where adults can reflect on their self-images and change their self-concepts. Challenging previously held beliefs, values, and behaviors are important to this reflection.

It is important that the distance learning provider provide concise statements of expected learning outcomes. These outcomes should guide the instructional strategies, technology, and intervention methods. Building a method to utilize assessment and feedback to learners and instructors should be a part of the design.

The California Distance Learning Project recommends that adult education programs initially experiment with a small video checkout program to see whether distance learning is a useful intervention. This test can be designed as a hybrid program with an existing classroom based course. A small group of students can be enrolled in the video checkout to extend and speed their learning activities. The adult education administrator then can determine the utility of expanding the distance learning program, based on more concrete experience and information.

Using the video checkout test permits the coordinator to have face to face contact with learners when they check in videos and have their work reviewed. This experience will lead to making subtle adjustments in the program design and developing a better feel for learning requirements in a distance learning context.

Distance learning utilizing instructional technologies should be incorporated into the overall technology planning. Special attention to staff development and support is important.

Administering Distance Learning

A distance learning program normally has an assigned coordinator. The coordinator's responsibilities include:

  1. Needs assessment and learner identification
  2. Program approval
  3. Marketing and promotion
  4. Outreach and recruitment
  5. Coordination with classroom programs
  6. Assessment and enrollment
  7. Testing and progress monitoring
  8. Learning materials inventory
  9. Instructor supervision
  10. Managing and using student and program information
  11. Program evaluation and improvement

The areas where programs appear to have their most difficulty are assessing the learner's ability to learn in a self directed context and providing individualized assistance. Screening and counseling should occur during the distance learning enrollment process.

Providing individualized assistance will vary dramatically according to the type of distance learning intervention. Instructor - learner contact is necessary. How and how often it is provided varies. If regular face to face contact is impractical, telephone contact or written contact should be used and documented. Email and chat activities are important in Internet provided instruction.

Record Keeping

California adult schools are required to maintain Tracking of Programs and Students (TOPSpro) data on all enrolled learners. Learners enrolled only in distance learning can be identified by checking the distance learning box on the Special Programs section of the TOPSpro Entry Record. This provides demographic and programmatic information on each learner.

Additional learner progress information normally is maintained in an individual portfolio or file. The content is based on the type of distance learning program. This information is invaluable in working with the individual learner and monitoring her or his progress.

Determining ADA

Image of computer hardware California adult school non traditional learning is subject to the seat time accounting practices (average daily attendance). In making an annual Innovation Program application, the adult school describes how instruction is cross referenced with ADA. Several models have been developed and followed by many adult schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District's model is listed on the California Distance Learning Project Web site under Research. Other examples are available from the individual Innovation Program applications. They are online at the Adult Education Office Web site (AEO). Click on "See other participating adult schools" and pick a program.


Accountability has two elements in this discussion —

Accountability with California adult school distance learning programs is based on the use of TOPSpro to maintain common data on learners and programs. Pre and post testing using the appropriate CASAS reading and listening tests for ESL, ABE, and GED/adult secondary education learners are required when federal funds are being used. Other criterion referenced assessment instruments should be used as appropriate for the authorized program area of instruction.

Collecting progress testing information on each distance learning enrollee presents special problems, especially when the learner is enrolled in a telecourse. At the least a valid random sample of learners would be used to limit the data collection burden.

This standardized data collection is relatively new, and many local programs do not use the data effectively to examine their program performance and make useful adjustments. In the future it is likely that more standardized learning outcomes or performance based information will be required. It is prudent to become comfortable with using these readily available data in making reports to one's various local stakeholders like the instructional staff, adult education principal or administrator, and the district superintendent.

Other more idiosyncratic tools like authentic assessment, portfolios, and records of learner progress should supplement the required data collection. Asynchronous learning is self paced and individualized. It is important to maintain a good record of learner activities and progress that goes beyond the standardized record keeping and testing. Experience shows that teachers collect more detailed information on distance learner's progress than the classroom learners. These teachers often have closer, more regular, and more personal student contact.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation apply equally to the distance learning program and to the individual participant. Emphasizing the learner's self evaluation and reflection should be integral to progress monitoring activities. Outcome and achievement measures that reflect curriculum mastery cannot be overlooked in spite of our emphasis on standardized testing.

Portfolio Content

Experience has shown that distance learning programs often have more evaluation of learner progress than do the classroom programs. The following are suggestions for portfolio content. They were developed by the Hacienda La Puente distance learning program.

Because many educators and policy makers are still skeptical about distance learning, there should be a strong emphasis on documenting mastery as well as user satisfaction on learning services received.

Independent Study

In California independent study refers to a program that permits students to take high school subjects through individualized learning. The model calls for the student and teacher to create a quasi informal contract where both parties agree to certain outcomes and activities. Regular meetings to review progress and assignments are central to the agreement.

Independent study is very similar to distance learning but for the most part has not relied on instructional media to deliver the instruction. Adult secondary education can be delivered via distance learning. It is not subject to the Innovation Program limitations. However, the normal procedures and documentation that apply to the independent study programs apply equally to the distance learning Innovation Programs.

Conceptually, the model of a good independent study program is an equally good model for distance learning. It should not be trivialized by minimizing the role of the instructor.

The curriculum design must be based on the approved course outline.

Design Issues

Design issues change over time and vary according to the person's involvement in distance learning.


Evaluation is undervalued and underutilized in adult education. Outcomes based learning will drive adult education in the future...yet most programs cannot effectively document program and learner outcomes and strengths. The expansion of distance learning as an accepted modality will be tied to our ability to document outcomes and, when necessary, compare them with classroom centered learning. Be sure to review the section on evaluating distance learning.


Distance Learning Evaluation >