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Distance Learning Literature Review

Written by Nellie Deutsch (Ed.D) in 2004 as part of her MA studies

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 learning environment.


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 doing.


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 international forum for innovative schools. Retrieved February 21, 2004, from


McDonald, J. (2002, August). Is "as good as face-to-face" as good as it gets? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. 6 (2), 10-15. Retrieved February 14, 2004 from


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


Sousa, D. A. (1998, December 16). Is the fuss about brain research justified? Education Week [Online], 18 (16), 52.


The 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


Viadero, D.  (1996, September 18). Brain trust. Education Week, 16 (3), 3.



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