You are to write a 2-page paper. Read the Editorial
below and answer the discussion question. State the question first and then continue to answer. “Do Not Use Outside Sources.”
1.Do the explanations there apply in the distance education programs you know about?
Michael G. Moore
I was asked to reflect on what media should be used by a teaching or training organization as it considers setting up its first distance education program. Here are some thoughts, some "food for thought." First, each medium has qualities that are appropriate for particular types of messages, and some learners tend to prefer some media rather than others. The art of effective instructional design in distance education depends largely on making the right selection among media for each particular content and each type of learner within various constraints, particularly those of cost. Significant considerations include access to expertise in designing good-quality programs for available media and the availability of support services to the learners who use them, usually through the provision of support personnel in the learners' localities.
Consider the learners. How many will there be in each class? At how many sites? How well motivated are they? Recorded media can be delivered to any number of students, although other considerations may not make this practicable. Two-way video interaction will be more effective with a small number of sites and a smaller number of students or trainees; one-way video, two-way audio with a larger number of sites and students; and audio with still larger groups. Learners' locations also will become of some significance, since participating in real-time communication at inconvenient hours (e.g., because of different time zones) demands high levels of motivation.
Motivation is probably the single most important variable determining learning at a distance or in other educational environments. Previous education is also extremely important. Can it be assumed that your audience has a high level of previous education and will, therefore, have the ability as well as the motivation to study at a distance? The best materials and instruction may not work if there is little motivation to learn; conversely, weaker materials may be effective if the motivation is high. The instructors may not be able to do much about this situation; however, administrators or managers can boost motivation by specific strategies. Whereas in business, rewards might be in the form of salary increments, in schools and colleges rewards are usually in the form of grades, and motivation may be less of a problem (although not necessarily so, of course). Increasing motivation and therefore enhancing learning outcomes can help institutions and organizations recoup much of their investment in education or training.
Consider the content. How much of this content can be recorded, and what needs to be provided in real time? If we can identify that part of the subject which is likely to remain stable and unchanged for a considerable period of time, it may be recorded on relatively expensive (to design and produce) media, such as videotape or CD-ROM, or published in a good-quality text. (Attractive text should be preferred where economically justified by numbers of students or trainees and by the "shelf-life" of the content.) Those parts of the subject that are most likely to change frequently may be recorded on relatively inexpensive media (i.e., desk-top publications and audiotape), while the most volatile subjects will have to be delivered via real-time media, i.e., the teleconference media. Content needs to be analyzed to identify which parts can effectively be communicated by text, which require the spoken word and other audio attributes, which can better be illustrated visually, and which need interaction.
If it can be assumed that recorded materials alone will be sufficient, there is no need for interactive media. However, it is seldom the case that most learners in a class will achieve learning goals as well independently as by participating in discussions, project activities, and similar interactive experiences. Frequently, the basic information can be communicated by print, expert commentary and authentic sounds by audiotape, and demonstrations and motivational excerpts by videotape. Interaction provides opportunity for students to practice using ideas and information and to obtain motivational feedback from an instructor.
If the learners are relatively sophisticated and the subject matter relatively conceptual, lower-cost interactive media (e.g., audio- and computer conferencing) will suffice; videoconferencing is more expensive-and useful where verbal explanations are not adequate or where visual demonstration is essential-but frequently its use is not justified pedagogically.
Consider local learner support, pedagogical, but also technical. A major element in successful distance learning is the positioning by the institution or organization of local support personnel. These people need not be specialists in the content-indeed should not be-but rather act as intermediaries between students or trainees and the central teaching organization. Each student should know whom to contact locally to resolve problems of content, learning process, and administration of the learning program. Continuity of experience is desirable. Familiarity with the teaching organization, so that problems can be referred to central experts, is essential. Local support may include the ability to set up and trouble-shoot teleconference technology. Local support personnel need to be recruited with care, trained appropriately, monitored and supervised, and well rewarded.
Consider design and production. As we consider designing and delivering our program, we must ask if we have the expertise in-house to design effective teaching materials to be delivered by the various media and, if not, whether we have access to external design and production resources (in which case a system for careful monitoring of the external agency is needed). Very few commercial or conventional educational organizations have personnel who know how to teach in print, by recorded media, and by teleconference. It would be wise to consider appointing specific in-house staff who could specialize in these skills, designing and producing the materials themselves as much as possible, but also negotiating for whatever further expertise is needed through outside production agencies.
Consider instruction. Do we have the expertise-or do we need to train staff-to provide interaction with students or trainees? How will such interaction be accomplished? By correspondence? In real-time audio conferences? In computer conferences? In video conferences?
Consider costs and availability. Is it necessary to install hardware for the reception and use of our instructional programs, or is hardware already in place? Is there money for the cost of real-time teleconferencing? More importantly, is there sufficient money to pay for good-quality design, production, and learner-support?
Other things being equal, a lower-cost mixture of media obviously is to be preferred over a higher-cost solution. If human resources are limited in number or in experience with distance education design/delivery of instruction, and if money is limited, it is better to focus the resources on obtaining good-quality instructional design and good quality instruction and learner support, while using relatively inexpensive media. If learner motivation is not high, it may be necessary to use "motivating media," i.e., recorded and interactive video; however, doing this with the necessary quality will be more costly.
As I said at the beginning, these ideas are meant to provide "food for thought."
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