Guide to Distance Learningwww.ntu.ac.uk/elearningVersion 2
1Version 1.2Distance Learning GuideEducational Development UnitVersion 1.2IntroductionDistance learning describes a situation in which students are supported in their study of coursematerials at their own pace and in their own homes rather than having to be primarily based oncampus. It has the potential to widen participation in academic study, diminish issues ofaccessibility and remove barriers of time and geography from learners. However, this can leadto isolation for students whilst also placing an increasing requirement on them for independentlearning and self-reliance. The purposeful use of technology and course design can help studentsto recreate some of the elements of community and collaboration they may find on a traditionaluniversity campus. Opportunities for discussion and collaboration can be built in to courses,enriching and deepening students’ engagement with their learning.Types of distance learningThere are several methods of blending delivery and selecting the most appropriate approach is akey to achieving positive learning experiences for students.Type of distance learning Key Features Issues to considerCorrespondence / Traditionaldistance learningPrimarily print-based withoptional face-to-face /telephone / postal support.Other materials may be sentto the student to support theirlearning including CDs, DVDsetcIf any element is optional,non-participation needs tohave no impact on studentscan achieving the course’slearning outcomes.Decisions on how students willbe supported need to madefrom the outset.Blended Primarily online with additionalface-to-face sessions althoughdifferent blends of deliverymethods are also included inthis type.The tools available in a virtuallearning environment such asthe NTU Online Workspace(NOW), are ideal for hostingweb materials and allowing forcommunication andcollaborative working.Managing students’expectations is vital so thatthey know when e-mail,forums and other means ofonline communications will bechecked.Courses should be designed tohave activities embeddedwithin them to allow studentsto meet learning outcomesand help them foster a senseof community, minimizing thepotential for isolation.Existing materials may requireredesign for new environment,however, a lack of awarenessof the potential for technologycan limit possibilities forlearning so this needs to betaken into consideration
2Version 1.2Type of distance learning Key Features Issues to considerOnline only All resources, activities,readings and overviews aremade available online.Clear instruction in coursematerials is vital since there isno other means ofcommunication. Not all onlinematerial needs to be preparedby the institution, but linksneed to be checked forcopyright purposes.Other issues apply as withBlended learning above.NTU GuidanceWith regard to all the different types of delivery above, you should consult the AcademicStandards and Quality Committee’s “Operational Notes on the Approval, Monitoring and Reviewof Flexible and Distributed Learning” if you are delivering a new course.Design and ContentWhen developing a distance learning programme or module, you need to consider the design ofthe module or the programme in relation to the learning outcomes and the assessment. Inparticular, you may wish to consider the following:The rationale: your reasons for delivering the module or programme at a distanceThe learning and teaching strategies, often referred to the pedagogic approachThe type of activities you want to constructThe resources you want to embedThe type of communication you want to employ, e.g. discussion forum, e-mail, face-to-face, phoneTry to align your activities to your learning outcomes and the assessment. You may also find ituseful to map out your modules using a template, like the one below.Module title:Learning outcomes (LO):Pedagogic approach/learning and teaching strategies:Learning hours:Week Theme/topic LO Content Activities Resources Tools Tutorinteractione.g. Subjectoverview andtaskse.g.student toreadoverview,accessresources&contributeto thediscussionforume.g. websites;textse.g.discussionforume.g. viathecontent &feedbackvia thediscussionforum
3Version 1.2Tools for planning learning deliveryCloudworks – shared learning and teaching ideas as well as learning designs:http://cloudworks.open.ac.uk/London Pedagogy Planner – includes downloadable planner for online courses:http://www.wle.org.uk/d4l/index.phpPhoebe Pedagogic Planner, University of Oxford – references, resources and downloadablematerials for learning design:http://phoebe-app.conted.ox.ac.uk/Useful references:JISC Effective practice with e-learning: http://www.elearning.ac.uk/effprac/Implementing the seven principles – Technology as Lever – Chickering and Ehrmanhttp://www.tltgroup.org/programs/seven.htmlLearning Materials at a Distance, Endean: http://www.materials.ac.uk/guides/distance.aspExisting and new resourcesWhen planning the design and delivery of your course, it is worth making an audit of whatcontent you already have, together with its format, and to make a list of what needs to becreated. Be aware that materials used for distance learning purposes need to be written in adifferent style to traditional course materials. A distance learning course is not simply a face-to-face course repackaged and delivered to students. You need to think how you are going toengage, motivate and enrich the educational experience of students who may otherwise beisolated in their learning.Also, remember to consider what library resources you want to embed within your course and tospeak to your subject liaison librarian in good time. You may be able to repurpose digital andmultimedia content available on the web, but remember to check the copyright restrictionsattached to these. If there are restrictions and you want to directly embed a resource, ask thecopyright owner for permission but give yourself enough time to do so. Make sure you have aback-up plan if permission is refused and do not make the success of your course dependentupon these resources.CopyrightYou should deal with any copyright issues from the outset, bringing in a relevant member oflibrary staff as part of your course development process. The library provides extensive supportvia its website (http://www.ntu.ac.uk/llr/help_support/copyright/index.html) and has a CopyrightOfficer, Lisa Warburton who is able to offer advice on an individual or group basis. You may alsochoose to have printed content digitised; this service is also available within the library. They willalso be able to offer advice on issues such as linking to external resources.AssessmentAssessment should be an integrated part of the learning process and should be clearly related tothe course’s learning outcomes to ensure its relevance within the course. It can be a driver andit is recommended that you clarify the details of all summative and formative course assessmentbefore you write the course content. It is used for a variety of reasons, including:
4Version 1.2• To pass or fail a student• To diagnose students strengths and weaknesses• To provide feedback to students to improve their learning• To help students to develop their skills for self-assessment• To motivate students to provide them with feedback• To provide a profile of what a student has learnt• To grade rank a student• To select for future courses• To predict success in a future courseWith regard to quizzes, questionnaires and electronic testing, some of the types of assessmentthat tend to drive practice are:• Post-tests: mastery of content on completion of a course• Pre-tests: assess learners readiness for instruction and exempt learners from studyingmaterial they already know• Remediation: test items can pinpoint knowledge that the learner lacks and branch toadditional material• Adaptation: get a feel for a learners’ strength or weaknesses – could possibly lead to achange in the programme• Personalisation: can be used in combination with adaptation questions to createprogrammes that offer individualised instruction – e.g. series of answers a series ofquestions to build learner profilesIn addition, if you are expecting to anonymously mark student assignments, make sure you haveprovided clear guidance on how to submit an assignment, and in what format. As well as lettingthem know when they will receive the outcome of any such assessments.Useful reference:Academic Standards and Quality Handbook – Assessment Principles and Policy:http://www.ntu.ac.uk/CASQ/policy/academic_standards/13832.pdfLearning OutcomesLearning outcomes should describe exactly what knowledge students should have attained andwhat they should be able to do by the end of the module. The University provides a ModuleSpecification http://www.ntu.ac.uk/CASQ/impl/Guidance_programme/11033.pdf. Thisspecification provides two areas for which you should relate your learning outcomes to:• Knowledge and understanding• Skills, qualities and attributesCASQ also provides guidance on using Learning Outcomes to Design and Assess a course.http://www.ntu.ac.uk/CASQ/impl/Guidance_programme/10989.pdfIn addition, the Higher Education Academy provides guidance on the purpose of LearningOutcomes http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/1562.htm which may be useful. Be careful, however,that your learning outcomes do not restrict the potential for breadth and depth of learning.Emergent and unintended learning outcomes are desirable even if these cannot be explicitlystated at the beginning of any course.Students TimeThe course supporting material and module guides should provide details of the structure of thecourse and the assessment timetable. Be aware of the amount of study time students shouldgive to a course in a week and remember to structure all tutor-directed and self-directed
5Version 1.2activities within this time limit. Be realistic about how much work you are expecting yourstudents to do in any given period and remember that time management is a critical issue forstudents studying at a distance who are fitting learning around their other commitments.Helping them to manage this by giving clear and achievable guidelines can help improveretention rates.Useful reference:Student Support in Open Learning: Sustaining the process – discussion of some of the issuesmature, distance learning students face and how to accommodate thesehttp://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/132/212AccessibilityWhen you are designing and delivering your content, you need to be mindful of anything thatmay affect the accessibility of your content by your students. For example, do you have anystudents who are dyslexic or are visually impaired? There are many issues that need addressingin relation to making your content accessible; you may first want to start by considering thefollowing questions• Can screen-reading software, e.g. JAWS, read the page content?• Can the content be converted into a format that is more accessible?• If you are using audio, have you provided a text transcript?• If you are using a video, have you embedded subtitles or made a transcript available?• If you are embedding images, have you provided adequate descriptions or, if in a webpage, used alt-text or long description descriptors?• Is it possible for all students to undertake the course assessment(s)?Useful reference:TechDis is an educational advisory service that works in the field of accessibility and inclusionand is funded by the JISC. It provides access to many useful resources that will help you designand deliver accessible course content. In particular, you may find their online Accessibility inlearning toolkit helpful since it provides resources on many different accessibility scenarios withadvice tailored to those creating learning materials:http://excellence.qia.org.uk/page.aspx?o=jisctechdisBarrier-free: provides advice on barrier-free recruitment; also provides a checklist on webaccessibilityhttp://www.barrierfree-recruitment.com/access/checklist.htmThe Educational Development Unit can provide advice as well as the Library which has a webpage for students with disabilities:http://ntu.ac.uk/llr/help_support/disability_support/index.htmlQuality AssuranceWhen you have completed writing your course content, it is helpful if you can enlist anindividual(s) to quality assure it, especially if the content is being delivered online. Identifyindividual(s) that have not been involved with the development of the course and get them toread the content to make sure that it is clear and direct, as well as to check for any typographicalerrors and broken links. Decide with the individual(s) how you would like feedback on thisprocess; for example, you may decide to develop a template.
6Version 1.2Example:Section Page Error or clarification Correction dateAlso, make sure that your support documentation is quality assured. You should quality assureyour content periodically, for example before the next run of the course, as link addresses mayhave changed, as well as activity details and supporting documentation.Useful reference:Criteria for evaluating online courses – Clayton R. Wrighthttp://www.imd.macewan.ca/imd/content.php?contentid=36SupportStaffingDeveloping a distance learning course is time and resource-intensive. It is best to take a project-managed approach, whereby you outline the tasks that need to be completed in order toeffectively deliver the course against a timeline. The successful delivery of the course will also beinfluenced by the size of the project team and the skills they have. It is difficult for one person totake sole responsibility, so it is useful if you can co-ordinate a multi-disciplinary team in whichindividuals are assigned roles and responsibilities. This should ideally include staff from a rangeof areas, including teaching staff, administrators, educational developers, technicians, librariansetc. However, you will need to get them on board at the very beginning so that individuals canplan ahead and fit the project around their other commitments.Staff developmentWhen you are considering running a distance learning course, you need to consider the staffdevelopment needs of your project team. What prior experience do you or your staff have of thedesign, delivery and support of distance learning courses? This will obviously vary from team toteam, and the mode of delivery will also influence this, for example, the skill set for delivering adistance learning course in print will be different to delivering it online. The EducationalDevelopment Unit will be able to provide advice on this. Remember that you need to integratestaff development within the planning of your course so that staff development is timely.Guide and schedulesIt is important that your students are given the time to orientate themselves within their course,that they are aware of the order of tasks and activities, together with deadlines for completion.This can be documented in the supporting materials that you supply, such as the modulehandbooks. A separate calendar is also helpful. You could also decide to provide timelyreminders via the communication tools in NOW, e-mail or SMS text.Student supportIt is important for you to be clear about the kind of support you will provide for your studentsand what methods you will be using. This will help to manage your students’ expectations. Forexample, state at the start of the course how soon you will respond to an e-mail, how often youwill check messages in any discussion forums, if you are sharing your telephone number, whenyou will be available to take calls. You should try to avoid giving students the impression that
7Version 1.2you are available 24/7 - remember that you have a life as well. Also, try to give some guidanceon when to use e-mail, when to use a discussion forum and when to use the telephone to obtainsupport. For example, providing discussion forums for technical and social support may help youto manage your work. Instead of responding to each student individually via e-mail about thesame issue or problem, a discussion forum will help you to respond to all your students at once.You may also find that students will use the same approach to support one another. Also,remember to state in the course documentation the contact details for the various University-wide student support services.EvaluationLast and by no means least, after the completion of a run of a course, it is helpful to have itevaluated. It can be evaluated in two ways. The first way is by the course development team.The team can reflect on the processes implemented to create the course, together with howsuccessful the running of the course was, and the support provided by the tutor. The second waythe course can be evaluated is by the students. This should not be too onerous an activity, asstudents will be expected to do this on top of their learning activities. Students can evaluate thecourse content as well as the support their tutors provided. There is a considerable amount ofresearch available on the evaluation of courses and online courses. The following references mayhelp you.Useful references:CLPD Evaluation and Survey Service – University of Adelaidehttp://www.adelaide.edu.au/clpd/evaluation/eval_online.htmlEvaluation Cookbook – LDI Scottish Higher Education Funding Councilhttp://www.icbl.hw.ac.uk/ltdi/cookbook/contents.html#endheadBut what did we learn? Evaluation online learning as a processhttp://www.online-learning.com/papers/articlelearn.htmlStudent focused evaluation of elearning activities – Karen Fillhttp://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/143724.htm