C. Gibaldi

Harvard & St. John's University (UNITED STATES)
Distant learning has been on the rise for two decades now. The question is, are the current and potential problems being recognized and properly appreciated by those in higher education. This presentation will attempt to address some of the many shortcomings and clearly identifiable problems with distant learning. Although the term distant learning has been used for almost 100 years, over the last 20 years or so it has been taken in new directions with the advent and use of the internet and compressed video, which allows for distant learning to occur in real time. Despite the many improvements and the lingering promise, there are many problems that need to be addressed. The problems include; quality of instruction, misuse of technology, attitudes of instructors, students, and administrators, loss of opportunity for "traditional age" college students to develop in other ways, absence of any face-to-face time for students, and many others.

-Quality of instruction is typically rated as low by instructors that teach traditional courses and distant learning courses. Many instructors unfortunately are asked (forced) to teach courses that they did not design.
-Misuse of technology is also a problem because instructors are frequently not trained well enough in proper delivery of courses to best use the available technology.
-Attitudes of instructors, students, and administrators are a major issue. The instructor must properly set the tone, otherwise he/she can serve as a roadblock to the learning process. To many institutions are overly focused on the financial benefits of distant learning, blurring their judgement.
-Loss of opportunity for "traditional age" college students to develop is obvious. Typically students gain much from all the other experiences that a college education provides them with. Some experts have speculated that more learning takes place outside the classroom then in the classroom.
-Absence of face-to-face contact with instructors is a major liability with distant learning. Professors are unable to observe the emotions of the students and cannot detect moments of anxiety, and thereby limit their ability to respond to student needs.

My own additional concern is that institutions of higher education must reexamine their motives for vigorously promoting distant learning and on-line learning. They must be cautious not to be driven by the profit motive, and the idea of developing a "cash cow" withing their institutions, and rationalize that it is best for the students...some students possibly, but not all students. Technology is obviously a major tool to be used properly and embraced, but not misused. Higher Education must pay greater attention to the problems and concerns related to distant learning if they are to move forward, and they must be sure not to emulate the practices of "for profit" institutions.