Current Issue

The Context of Distance Learning Programs in Higher Education: Five Enabling Assumptions

Don ChaneyElizabeth Chaney and James Eddy

by   Don Chaney
       Elizabeth Chaney

       James Eddy

Over the past ten years, a significant increase in courses and programs taught through distance education technologies has occurred both in non-for-profit and for-profit colleges and universities. During this time, there have been many successes and failures. The researchers hypothesize that the marginal success and/or failure occurs due to program planner(s) not viewing the design, implementation, evaluation, and sustainability of distance learning courses and programs in the context within which the distance learning will occur. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide five basic interrelated assumptions for distance learning program planners to consider when designing distance learning courses and programs in college and university settings. These assumptions are offered based on the observation, successes and failures of the authors in their collective 57 years of designing such programs for six different universities across the US, as well as evidence from related literature.

Implementing Blended Learning: Policy Implications for Universities

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Lori Wallace
Fred Hartfield
Jon Young

by   Lori Wallace
       Jon Young

The incorporation of new learning technologies into courses at Canadian universities has been largely undertaken at the initiative of individual instructors, rather than in response to explicit institutional direction or faculty initiatives. This appears to be particularly the case with the migration of individual courses that were formally entirely face-to-face to blended delivery. In this case study, the experience of one university is used to present the types of academic policy and process issues that arose during a pilot project to re-design a single graduate program in order to facilitate the use of blended delivery. Considerations included why and how blended learning was to be used; at what level decisions regarding blended delivery should be made; decision process for individual courses versus entire programs; policy precedents and need for policy modification or new policy. Specific areas examined include course and program approval, resources, and instructor responsibilities and workload. The findings suggest that the work involved in policy updating in a changing environment is important because it surfaces, and opens for review, existing, often taken-for-granted institutional values, norms, and protocols. In some cases, the articulation of these values and norms serves to highlight the importance of respecting them within this new learning context. In others it suggests the need to rethink accepted protocols that may be ill-suited to the educational opportunities that emerging technologies can present.


Overcoming Student Retention Issues In Higher Education Online Programs

David Woolstenhulme
Errin Heyman

by   Errin Heyman

Pressure exists to attract and retain students in higher education. Online educational programs have the potential to increase the number of students who can enroll in degree-bearing institutions. Explored in the qualitative study using a modified three-round Delphi technique was the phenomenon of consistently lower student retention rates in fully online programs in higher education, as compared to student retention rates in ground-based programs. Experts suggested that student self-discipline, instructor engagement and response time in courses, and the need for institutions to offer online students an array of support services contribute to student retention in fully online programs. Panelists revealed concerns and practices that may influence student retention. These practices ultimately relate to social and academic integration.


Factors Influencing a Learnerís Decision to Drop-Out or Persist in Higher Education Distance Learning
David Woolstenhulme
Hannah Street

by   Hannah Street

Previous studies conducted on dropouts within online courses have found inconsistent factors affecting attrition. A literature review was performed, focusing on eight main studies. These studies were performed at both national and international universities. The methodology, participants, research question, and results varied by study. Overall, internal factors of self-efficacy, self-determination, autonomy, and time management along with external factors of family, organizational, and technical support were found to be significant. An additional variable of course factors, which includes course relevance and course design, was found to significantly impact learners’ decisions to persist or drop an online course. These variables were incorporated into a modified version of Bandura’s reciprocal causation theory, which states that each of these variables influences and is influenced by the decision of a student to persist or drop an online course. The model needs statistical testing within the context of an individual study. Further studies are also needed on course factors impacting an online student’s decision to persist or drop an online course.


Enhancing Online Education through Instructor Skill Development in Higher Education
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Tamara Roman
Fred Hartfield
Kathleen Kelsey

by   Tamara Roman
       Kathleen Kelsey
       Hong Lin

Rapid growth of online education and the perceived difference between online and face-to-face instruction has necessitated training and support for instructors transitioning to online delivery. The research reported here resulted from an evaluation of a six-week fully online training program, Preparing Online Instructors (POI), to determine what constitutes an effective online training program.  It was found that online training programs should emphasize both technological and pedagogical skill development, evaluate participants’ training needs prior to the training, and provide ongoing resources and support mechanisms after the training.  The findings from the study inform administrators and professional development providers on how to plan and implement an instructor-training program to enhance online teaching skills.


Instructional Design Processes and Traditional Colleges
David Woolstenhulme
Nichole Vasser

by   Nichole Vasser

Traditional colleges who have implemented distance education programs would benefit from using instructional design processes to develop their courses. Instructional design processes provide the framework for designing and delivering quality online learning programs in a highly-competitive educational market. Traditional college leaders play a pivotal role in the implementation of instructional design processes into their distance education course designs. Leaders must have a communicated and shared vision for their distance education programs and how instructional design processes can help the organization achieve that vision.Traditional college leaders must advocate and implement effective change processes that will ensure that instructional design processes will become part of the organization’s culture.

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The Impact of Design and Aesthetics on Usability, Credibility, and Learning in an Online Environment
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Alicia David
Fred Hartfield
Peyton Glore

by   Alicia David
       Peyton Glore

Previous studies conducted on dropouts within online courses have found inconsistent factors affecting attrition. A literature review was performed, focusing on eight main studies. These studies were performed at both national and international universities. The methodology, participants, research question, and results varied by study. Overall, internal factors of self-efficacy, self-determination, autonomy, and time management along with external factors of family, organizational, and technical support were found to be significant. An additional variable of course factors, which includes course relevance and course design, was found to significantly impact learners’ decisions to persist or drop an online course. These variables were incorporated into a modified version of Bandura’s reciprocal causation theory, which states that each of these variables influences and is influenced by the decision of a student to persist or drop an online course. The model needs statistical testing within the context of an individual study. Further studies are also needed on course factors impacting an online student’s decision to persist or drop an online course.

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Comparing Student Learning Outcomes in Face-To-Face and Online Course Delivery
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Stephen Sussman
Fred Hartfield
Lee Dutter

by  Stephen Sussman
      Lee Dutter

Since the advent of fully online delivery of college-level coursework, a number of issues has preoccupied administrators, educators, and researchers with regard to student learning outcomes or performance vis-à-vis face-to-face delivery. The present study does not seek to demonstrate or to discover which mode of delivery is “superior” or “inferior” to the other. Rather, through a quantitative analysis of performance indicators, it seeks to highlight the differences and similarities in student learning outcomes between the two modes of delivery for an undergraduate, social science course, which focuses on public policy and administration. Thus, primarily through the analysis of real-time course data, which covers four academic years from 2005 to 2009, the study aims to provide a better understanding of the differences and similarities between these delivery modes, as far as the issues of concern to administrators, educators, and researchers are concerned.

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From the Editor

Melanie ClayHello Readers:

Several of the articles in this winter 2010 issue of the OJDLA refer to the importance of student services (admissions, financial aid, etc.) for the online student.  In our quest to meet accreditation standards and principles of good practice, most of us have adequate systems in place.  Often these systems provide the same services provided to traditional students—but through virtual, web-based platforms.  As online learning has reached early maturity, I believe that it’s time to move these support systems beyond a level of just adequacy.  At many institutions with populations of both traditional and online students, current structures and culture result in online students being served as second class.  Online students are not alternative students; they are not second rate students—they are as important to our missions in higher education as the 18 year old freshman who lived in the dormitory, eats in the cafeteria, and joins a sorority.  There often remains a disconnect between the distance learning organization and an institution’s student services departments. Typically, an online student contacts student services offices only to reach a well meaning staff person or administrator who knows little about the needs of the online learner, or tries to apply ill fitting policies designed for traditional students.  I would love to see more research or case studies on student services systems that serve both populations with equal gusto, and include appropriate integration of traditional student services personnel in the online student framework.

Thank you for your continued support of OJDLA in 2010.  Remember the call for proposals deadline for the DLA2011 conference is Dec 17, 2010.  Have a fabulous and safe holiday.


Peace to all,

Melanie N. Clay, Ph.D.
Decemberr 15, 2010

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Last modified: December 15th, 2010