This paper will summarize two
articles on distance learning and give the author's views on the benefits and
obstacles of implementing distance-learning in a junior and high school
Jeannette McDonald, in As
good as fact-to-face as good as it gets? (2002), raises a very
important question as to whether "[the] goal [of online learning should
be] to meet existing standards of traditional education" (McDonald,
2002) or "has distance learning, and especially online education opened
the door to enhanced strategies in teaching and learning" (McDonald,
2002)? Online learning may just be "doing different things"
(McDonald, 2002). What are these different things? Jeannette McDonald claims
that "distance education can be a frontier for new methods of
communication giving rise to innovative teaching and learning practices that
may not be possible in traditional, place-bound education" (2002). The
article discusses both the positive and "potential negative impacts of
online education" (McDonald, 2002).
There are many benefits to using
online distance learning environments. Online education is available
"anyplace, anytime [for] global communities of learners based on shared
interests (McDonald, 2002). Jeannette McDonald claims that "online education
[with its] group-based instruction [and] computer mediated communication
(CMC) provides an opportunity for new development and understanding in
teaching and learning" (2002). CMC encourages "collaborative
learning [by not providing] cues regarding appearance, race, gender,
education, or social status bestowing a sort of anonymity to
participants" (McDonald, 2002). Distance also "permits the
expression of emotion (both positive and negative) and promotes discussion
that normally would be inhibited. [Yet, this same] text-based [positive
aspect of online learning], makes online education more cumbersome and
therefore takes more time than face-to-face learning. [In addition,] the
sheer bulk of messages can be overwhelming" (McDonald, 2002). The learner
only has the written text and no other "non-verbal" (McDonald,
2002) cues. This may confuse the learner and cause
"misunderstanding" (McDonald, 2002). The article lists the
"seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education"
(McDonald, 2004) published in 1987 by the American Association of Higher
Education Bulletin. Jeannette McDonald claims that "online education has
the potential to achiever all of these practices" (2002). There is a
need for quality and standards for distance learning. "In April 2000,
the institute of Higher Education Policy produced a study with 24 benchmarks
for the success in Internet-based distance education" (The Institute for
Higher Education Policy, 2000).
Although Jeannette McDonald
feels that there are "biases against distance learning programs" , her recommendation is "to take advantage of
the potential of online education [by striving] to understand the technology
and how it affects human communication and interaction" (2002).
"In the road to dotcalm in education" (2004), Mark David Milliron deals with a very progressive idea that suggests
educators "slow … down from [their] busy lives… to be free to focus
first on connecting with learners and connecting them to learning… before
[they] end up feeling like [they] are no longer using technology, but are
being used by it" (Milliron, 2004). He
compares education to a highway where educators are faced with many
"road hazards". Mark Milliron claims that
"looking for road hazards on a journey takes concentration [which] is
not often practiced by those with a need for speed or those caught up in
their competitive drives" (2004). He gives examples of how ridiculous
people are becoming when they "strive to stay connected [to cell phones
and e-mails at the price of] deep personal connections with [their] family
members and friends" (Milliron, 2004). He
quotes Dr. Edward Hallowell, who ironically states "how many electronic
connections we have today, yet how hard it is for us to form authentic and
deep personal connections" (Milliron, 2004).
Mark Milliron gives an excellent comparison of how
technology has blinded people when he says that they are becoming "more
and more like Pavlov's dogs: at the ding of incoming e-mails they stop what
they're doing, salivate, and rush to the screen" (2004).
There is pressure to keep up
with the times as well as "a cost-of-entry issue regarding technology in
education. Without a certain level of technology services and learning
options, many students will not consider attending [a certain] institution"
(Milliron, 2004). Mark Milliron
claims that "any technology has to prove that it will ultimately improve
or expand learning" (2004). This will come about if educators "slow
down, look around, and get on the road to DotCalm-
a place [to] thoughtfully engage and explore all aspects of technology, good,
bad, or indifferent; …a place with mindful focus on the people and passions
that make life worth living" (Milliron, 2004).
The author of this paper has
been trying to implement distance learning in both junior and high school
environments for the past year. The school has added a platform called
"Britannica" to make online learning possible in case of emergency
or a teacher's strike. The students are not willing to take the time to go in
and look up homework assignments and other online learning activities. The
author keeps reminding students to add their e-mail addresses to the form but
they are unwilling to cooperate. The process is very slow with little
results. Some teachers have made these online lessons compulsory for their
students. ESL students shy away from online classes. They have expressed fear
of having their work viewed by others. Every student has to login to the
school site but within a classroom, everyone who takes the class can view the
other's work. ESL students don't see the advantage of learning by sharing.
Should online learning be an issue of control or should students be convinced
of its value as an authentic learning tool? Fear and a threatening
environment don't enhance learning according to brain-based learning
research. "How students 'feel' about a learning situation determines the
amount of attention they devote to it" (Sousa, 1998). "Positive
emotions ensure that learning will be retained" (Lackney,
2002). It's very important to discuss with students how they feel about
technology and online learning so that they feel good about what they are
The author feels that the
process of implementing online distance learning is a slow and delicate one.
Change will eventually come about but it will take time. As Mark Milliron has said "[let's not let] new technology …
get in the way of learning" (2004). Let's calm down as we "focus
first on connecting with learners [and only then begin] connecting them to
learning" (Milliron, 2004).
Lackney, J. A. (1998). 12 design
principles based on brain-based learning research. Design share: The
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Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. 6 (2), 10-15. Retrieved
February 14, 2004 from http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v6n2/v6n2_macdonald.asp
Milliron, M. D. (2004, February). The
road to dotcalm in education. Journal of
Asynchronous Learning Networks. 8 (1), 80-91. Retrieved February 14,
2004, from http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v8n1/index.asp
Sousa, D. A. (1998, December 16). Is the fuss about brain
research justified? Education Week [Online], 18 (16), 52.
Institute for Higher Education Policy. (2000, April). Quality on the line:
Benchmarks for success in Internet-based distance education. 1-45. Retrieved
February 21, 2004, from http://www.ihep.com/Pubs/PDF/Quality.pdf
Viadero, D. (1996, September 18).
Brain trust. Education Week, 16 (3), 3.