What is Distance Learning?
- Introduction to Distance Learning
- The History of Distance Learning
- California Considerations (with particular interest to California adult schools)
- Distance Learning Design
- Planning and Administration
- Distance Learning Evaluation
- Distance Learning Online
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.
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:
- Needs assessment and learner identification
- Program approval
- Marketing and promotion
- Outreach and recruitment
- Coordination with classroom programs
- Assessment and enrollment
- Testing and progress monitoring
- Learning materials inventory
- Instructor supervision
- Managing and using student and program information
- 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.
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.
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 —
- collecting demographic and program participation data on the learner, and
- collecting standardized pre and post test data on the learner.
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.
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.
- ID number on registration database
- Progress Log to record student profile, attendance, lessons & goal achievement.
- Registration copy
- CASAS pre/post test results
- Work Samples from first 9 hours of instruction to document entry level.
- Anecdotes written by students with examples value-added goal achievement.
- Copies of important correspondence between staff and students.
- Certificates of Achievement for excellent attendance or program completion. (To be given to students at next meeting with staff member)
- Surveys to document other student gains not covered by CASAS. (To be given to students at next meeting with staff member)
- Homework -- Corrected writing samples ready to be returned. All other work corrected with immediate student feedback at weekly tutoring appointments.
- For Telecourses -- Additional work samples to document progress and copies of all returned-by-mail tests.
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.
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.
- an individual agreement defines the roles and responsibilities of the learner and the instructor;
- regular communications between the learner and instructor are defined, and procedures to review progress are defined,
- learner progress is documented using standardized and alternative assessment tools
- other expectations for each party are articulated.
The curriculum design must be based on the approved course outline.
Design issues change over time and vary according to the person's involvement in distance learning.
- How do you screen for learner interest in distance learning?
- Does your technology plan include orienting and training teachers in using distance learning resources?
- What procedures do you use to assign learners to distance learning and at what levels?
- How can you screen for self directedness?
- How can pre and post testing best be integrated into your distance learning?
- How do you start a process to acquaint teachers with online instruction?
- How can you use TOPSpro data in continuous program improvement?
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.