The effects of distance learning: a summary of the literature: paper for the Congress of the United States, Office of Technology Assessment Page: 1
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EFFECTS OF DISTANCE LEARNING:
A SUMMARY OF THE LITERATURE
MICHAEL G. MOORE
MEANING AND PERSPECTIVE OF DISTANCE EDUCATION
The term "distance education" has been borrowed from the European terms,
"Fernunterricht, "Tele-enseignement" and "Educaci6n a Distancia" to describe all teaching-
learning arrangements in which the learner and teacher are normally geographically sepa-
rated, and to focus on the special nature of course design, learning and instruction under
The most notable characteristic of all distance education is that communication be-
tween learners and teachers is through print and writing or by electronic media such as
broadcasts, recordings, narrowcasts by cable, satellite, ITFS, and fiber transmission,
interactive telecommunication by computer, audio and video teleconferences or, as is in-
creasingly common, combinations of these media.
A second significant characteristic of distance education arises from the first. It con-
sists of a new approach to instruction, with the process of teaching being broken into its
constituent parts. Some or all of these are prepared away from the learner, and communi-
cated to the leamer.through the communications technology, with the possibility of interac-
tion between the learner and an instructor also being through communications technology.
In distance education, courses are usually designed for distribution to audiences that are
larger, and over geographic areas that are wider than conventional education. Although
course materials are produced more centrally, local instructors help learners make individ-
ual sense of, and develop critical responses to them.
Because the work of many specialists is involved in course design and learner sup-
port, systems design principles are followed to integrate their work, to ensure the course is
produced on schedule, and to ensure that instruction will have the maximum effect on a
population that is both large and also very diverse. Because costly media are employed and
also expensive specialists, and because they require considerable time to produce, the total
cost of distance courses is much higher than conventional teaching. As a result of this
investment they are likely to be of high quality compared to the work of individual teachers.
To obtain economies, the cost can be amortized over a large student body so that the
restructuring of resources results in LOWER per student costs even for higher quality
It is for these three reasons, summarized below, that questions of effectiveness have
to be asked and answered, research and new training proposed:
1. Distance education uses technologies that are unfamiliar as the primary media of
communication for teaching to most teachers and administrators.
2. Distance education requires teachers to specialize in the various functions of
teaching, especially those of content expert, facilitator of interaction, course
1DesmndKeegan, The Foundations of Distance Education (London: Croom Helm, 1986).
2 Barje Holmberg,Growth and Stucture of Distance Education (London: Croom Helm, 1986).
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Moore, Michael G. The effects of distance learning: a summary of the literature: paper for the Congress of the United States, Office of Technology Assessment, report, May 1989; (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc97312/m1/3/: accessed April 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.