Distanced-Based Education Term Paper

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Pre-Course Program for Entry-Level Online Adult Students

Distance education is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing segments of college and graduate level education. Many educational institutions with long histories of traditional classroom-based learning opportunities are expanding their programs to include distance-based learning via the Internet. In fact, many colleges and universities have invested heavily in their distance education programs. Courses for distance learners are offered in an array of formats that are designed to make learning opportunities accessible to students at anytime, anywhere in the world.

Limited information is available concerning the ability of traditional adult learners to adapt to the online learning environment to successfully complete an online learning degree program. (Baker, et al., 1994)

Today, educational elitism is a serious problem for many distance and non-traditional students. Most traditional learners look down on the non-traditional learner and distance-based educational programs as a whole. Many times these degrees are perceived negatively by employers who feel that the students in traditionally-based programs actually learn more than those in distance-based programs. This "elitist" viewpoint of traditional education vs. non-traditional education remains one of the oldest and most pervasive traditions of university (or advanced) education.

It is also necessary to help teachers get up to speed on the technologies that support the online, interactive learning environment employed in most distance-based educational programs. In many distance education programs, faculty members receive little or no instructional support prior to being assigned a distance education course. "The biggest failure in distance education may be the failure to adequately train and support the needs of faculty (and students)." Successful distance education programs demand harmonious operations with many different elements including instructional support and the technology provided to students who must learn new concepts from remote locations with limited resources or adequate computer training. The purpose of a pre-course program for students would be to teach less technologically savvy students how to operate in an Internet-based environment as effectively as possible. Failure to adequately support the distance-based learner can lead to a low-quality educational experience as well as attrition in online learning programs.

AN EVALUATION OF THE EFFECTIVENESS OF A PRE-COURSE PROGRAM FOR ENTRY-LEVEL ONLINE ADULT STUDENTS

Distance education is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing segments of college and graduate level education. A combination of unparalleled demand for access to higher education and the willingness of most companies to pay for these remote learning opportunities have helped to move distance learning to the forefront. Many educational institutions with long histories of traditional classroom-based learning opportunities are expanding their programs to include distance-based learning via the Internet. In fact, many colleges and universities have invested heavily in their distance education programs. Courses for distance learners are offered in an array of formats that are designed to make learning opportunities accessible to students at anytime, anywhere in the world.

Most efforts to date on designing web-based learning opportunities have focused little on the end-users (the students) and instead have focused on course development, delivery methods and faculty training. The assumption made by most distance-based programs is that students enrolling in these programs are already (or should already be) technologically savvy enough to navigate their way through these course with little to no training. Limited information is available concerning the ability of traditional adult learners to adapt to the online learning environment to successfully complete an online learning degree program. "It becomes obvious that it is almost impossible to meet the day-to-day demands of deadlines, software glitches, resource development, and empirical research, and to keep one's eye on the future of (distance learning's) progress. Conceptual bifocals are needed." (Baker, et al., 1994)

But, before we take a look at the future of distance learning, we must fully understand the history of postsecondary education. The earliest roots of the university as an educational institution are more than 2,400 years old and stem from the paideia of the classical Greek Sophists, with the Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle being the oldest institutional examples of advanced education in philosophy. "The Sophists believed that education should develop a person's character for effective participation in polis life. The polis was their concept of an ideal sociopolitical order governed by impersonal uniform laws, rather than by the arbitrary acts of a despot. The paideia system of education and training was aimed at developing the whole person -- physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The 4th century BC was the heyday of philosophy." (Inayatullah, et al., 2000) According to Inayatullah, a solid education should include the following traditions:

search for truth (inquiry and research) search for order and freedom (leadership) search for what is good (ethics and the development of a moral imperative) and search for beauty (the promotion of aesthetics in human enterprise).

The search for truth refers to the Socratic tradition of "intellectual honesty and integrity and a quest for wisdom" (Inayatullah, et al.) The search for truth was taught by ancient Greek educational institutions like the Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle. The search for truth in the modern day sense refers to the accepted practice that a university should be a center for research, increased knowledge and research.

Colleges and universities are also expected to develop competent leaders and productive citizens that add to the value of society. According to Inayatullah, this is an egotistical belief that reflects in two ways on higher education's role in modern day society. The first is negative, where university training is seen as a restricted advantage of the wealthy and a way in which the powerful maintain control through exclusive knowledge acquisition and life-long "good old boy" networks. The second is a positive reflection; the university is a stepping stone -- a supreme test of human quality and intellect where only the best and the brightest can attain a diploma. Today, educational elitism is a serious problem for many distance and non-traditional students. Most traditional learners look down on the non-traditional learner and distance-based educational programs as a whole. Many times these degrees are perceived negatively by employers who feel that the students in traditionally-based programs actually learn more than those in distance-based programs. This "elitist" viewpoint of traditional education vs. non-traditional education remains one of the oldest and most pervasive traditions of university (or advanced) education. But surprisingly, Ivy League universities in the United States often resemble the model of most distance-based educational programs where students can structure their courses around subjects such as philosophy, political studies and economic studies. The perception by most is that by attending classes at an institution and by taking classes on a college campus actually helps a student to acquire an immensely superior advantage in educational leadership that can not be provided in the distance learning environment. "The challenge facing (colleges and universities) of the next century, therefore, is to become knowledgeable about the new technologies and their possibilities in order to adapt them both for enhanced on-campus instruction and for increased outreach to students not currently on campus. The challenge to our educational institutions is to provide incentives and continuous support to faculty willing to push the technology envelope. The challenge for policy-makers and the general public is to resist the impulse to force colleges and universities into substituting the kind of rote training that technology can cheaply supply for the more expensive education that teaches thinking and analytic skills, values and an understanding of complex relationships, which the learned professor in the classroom can facilitate. An exclusively cost-driven dependence on computers and telecourses may instruct students in a subject; but only the professor with passion and disciplinary expertise can help students understand why a subject is important to think about and how to think about it." (Kolodny, 1998)

Is it possible then that traditional educational institutions that have non-traditional learning programs and rely on distance-based learners for financial support, value these learners less than the traditional student? This could be one explanation for some universities complete disinterest in assuring that non-traditional learners are successful in distance-based programs that often require specific knowledge of computers. End-users must understand e-mail, how to upload and download documents, chat features and capabilities and more. Without this knowledge, colleges and universities that provide distance-based learning programs may be setting some of their students up for failure if they do not provide a pre-course program.

According to the University of Phoenix Online website, they do address the issues of technology for students interested in their online programs:

It is) an important goal of the University is to keep its curriculum current with today's changing work environment. As such, it has become necessary for students to possess competency in the use of technology. To that end, you will be expected to have access to and use the hardware and software as described below. Please note that due to the rapid rate of change in information technology, we anticipate that hardware and software competencies will be updated on a regular basis. We also provide complete technical support seven…[continue]

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