1. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #6]
A theory of development and evaluation of distance education
Dr. Alaa Sadik, Sultan Qaboos University
The review of distance education technologies shows that the development in
technologies has focused on production and distribution of instruction using audio-and video
to reach a wide range of learners. This development began with no or minimum interaction,
less possibility to access instruction and low cost, allowing it to be more accessible (e.g.,
radio and television, audio- and video-cassettes). Accordingly, technologies were developed
to enrich presentations, individualise instruction, speed transmission and provide multimedial
content. Examples of these technologies are audio-graphic systems, audio-video conferencing
and computer programs.
These technologies enhanced learner-control over instruction and allowed real-time
interaction between the tutor and students and, for the first time, between the learner and
others on the course. More recently, a dramatic development in computing and networking
has occurred. This development in computing and networking technology has shaped a
unique paradigm of access to instruction, characterised by easy and unlimited access to
information, real-time or delayed interaction, flexible learning and learner-based instruction.
The development in distance education media and technologies is characterised by three
models: the correspondence model, the tele-learning model and the information and
The correspondence model (1890s-1960s)
This is the earliest model of distance education and used to package and deliver
instruction for isolated students. Basically, ‘correspondence study has meant the exchange of
lessons by mail. […] however, there are many new approaches to course work and although
the mails are still the prime means of exchanging lessons, technological advances are being
introduced’(The Dominion Bureau of Statistics, 1971, p. 287). However, the correspondence
model does not mean simply delivering textbooks with other media. Perraton (1982) indicated
2. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #6]
that correspondence education is distinguished by three features: the use of a variety of
different media, its structure and its system for feedback. In this model, ‘two-way
communication between students and teachers separated by distance only became practicable
with the advent or railways, and a relatively fast and efficient postal service ’ (Powell et al.,
1999, p. 86). Mail was used by students to send their questions and assignments and receive
feedback and comments from the tutor. Due to the low speed of interaction, particularly for
students at a long distance, interaction between the tutor and students was scarified in many
The Tele-learning model (1960s-1980s)
In the correspondence model, the aim is to make instruction easily accessible in a low-
cost and efficient manner. However, distance education is ‘more than an efficient method of
making information available to learners’ (Garrison, 1989, p. 64). Therefore, the tele-learning
model aims to distribute on-campus instruction using one-way media (e.g., broadcasting radio
and television) with two-way communication technologies (e.g., telephone and
teleconferencing). Radio was the first technology that characterised this model.
Following radio, television broadcasting brought about a revolution in distance
education by transmitting face-to-face style of instruction to homes and schools. In addition,
the availability of satellite has increased accessibility and reached far locations in a cost-
effective way (Wisher and Priest, 1998).
Although broadcasting is a very popular and appropriate technology for developing
countries (Keegan, 1988), the most important problem of broadcasting, as realised by the
Planning Committee of the British Open University, is that ‘the amount of learning materials
required to meet the needs of a full range of degree courses would be too great to cover by
broadcasting alone’ (Bates, 1988, p. 228). The real development in this model occurred when
communication, as the ‘second element’ of distance education, was enhanced by using audio
and video tele-conferencing (Holmberg, 1990).
3. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #6]
The information and networking model (1990s-)
The lack of convenient and effective interaction for independent learners has always
been a weakness of the tele-learning model of distance education (Bates, 1991) while access
to course-related information and resources is a common problem facing distance students in
the model (Kirkwood, 1998). The potential of information and networking technologies is that
they combine media (e.g., text, hypertext, images, video, etc.) and technologies (e.g.,
interactive CD-ROMs and the WWW) to represent knowledge and facilitate interaction
effectively between the learner and the content and with others (Westera, 1999).
This model implies ‘a more generic approach to teaching and learning, in contrast to
the largely one-way flow of packaged knowledge and instruction from teachers to learners’
(Kirkwood, 1998, p. 231). For example, interactive CD-ROMs have the power to
individualise learning as they allow the learner to explore, search and interact with the content
and user-interface effectively. Moreover, the Internet provides access to a vast amount of up-
to-date information, offers the ultimate interactive learning experience and encourages
collaboration and discussion among distance students (Rose, 1999).
The WWW, specifically, has become the most popular and easy to use service of the
Internet and provides access to most Internet services (e.g., e-mail, desk-top conferencing,
FTP, etc) and resources (e.g., text databases, multimedia and hypermedia archives, etc.) with
no limit to the number of students. Currently, the WWW is increasingly used in distance
education for communication, conducting discussion, delivery of courses, searching for
course-related information and evaluation of students.
Considering the characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of distance education
models, it can be said that many key features have been driven the development and
success of media and technologies. These features are categorised into five categories with
their contribution to distance education (see the table below).
4. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #6]
A framework for describing the features of distance education technologies
Criteria Feature Contribution to distance education
Time of - Asynchronous Distance education can be time-independent
communication - Synchronous (e.g., video-cassettes) or time-dependent (e.g.,
broadcasting television). Both of these two types
are useful and required to deliver instruction and
motivate and support students.
Type of - Student- The ideal distance education technology should
interaction teacher facilitate two-way interaction between the tutor
- Student- and learners, among learners, between the
student learner and the learning materials and between
- Student- the learner and the machine or technology that
content delivers instruction.
Learning style - Individualised Often, distance education happens in individual
- Group-based settings. However, recent trends in distance
education encourage social and group-based
learning using on-line discussions and
collaborative projects. Distance education media
need to support both of these two styles.
Instructional - Multimedia Traditional media whether visual only (e.g.,
- Stand-alone printed materials) or audio-visual (e.g., video-
conferencing and TV) have many limitations in
presenting knowledge. Recent technologies
integrate text, audio, animation and video (e.g.,
computer-based multimedia applications and the
WWW) to enhance the learning experience,
allowing them to be used without need for the
support of other types of media.
Cost - Cost The unit cost of a medium is affected by its fixed
effectiveness cost, variable cost, capital cost, recurrent cots,
marginal cost, etc. High variable costs for a
medium, for example, increase the unit cots per
hour and discourage decision-makers from
selecting it and learners from continuing in their
At the same time, stand-alone media (e.g., the
Internet) avoid both the course provider and the
learner having to pay for communication,
sending and receiving feedback and access to
Organisational - Ease of Media, whether old or new, should be simple
issues delivery enough and available to access at homes or
- Ease of schools, easy to use by educators and students to
access deliver and receive instruction, fast enough in
- Ease of use terms of transmission and updating of content,
- Speed etc.
5. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #6]
Applying the above model to evaluate radio, for example, shows that radio:
1. Supports synchronous learning only since students have to attend the class at a
specific time to listen to the programme.
2. Does not support student-student, student-teacher, student-content or student-
3. Is not suitable for group-based learning.
4. Can be accessed at any place.
5. Is characterised by the speed of development and transmission of programmes.
However, questions and feedback require a long time to be sent.
6. Has very high fixed, capital and recurrent costs. However, variable cost is very low.
At the same time, receiving instruction is less costly.
7. Uses audio only to deliver instruction.
8. Is not a stand-alone medium and should be used with other media (e.g., print and
9. Is not student-centred and students have no control over the transmission of the
10. Is easy to be installed and used at home or school.
11. Is easy to access at home or schools, since it requires nothing more than a radio
This evaluation shows that radio gets 6 points out of 17. This means radio fulfils only
35 per cent of the features that should characterise distance education technology. In addition,
the majority of media (11 out of the 15 revised) meet less than 50% of the features. However,
print and post as traditional media get a relatively high score (53%) in comparison with recent
media. Lastly, this framework shows that the Internet and the WWW meet all the criteria that
should be available in distance education media and technology to be used successfully at a
This simple analysis reflects that the majority of technologies used in distance
education do not satisfy many of the criteria of distance education technologies, as reflected in
the literature. These media and their characterises are graphed below.
6. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #6]
Characteristics of media and technologies used in distance education
Features of DE technologies
Print and post
Networks & Internet
Media used in DE
This graph shows that:
1. A dramatic development happened in distance education media and technologies to
fulfil the requirements of distance education. This development is not time-based but
depends on the features of media and technologies.
2. Although most of the recent media may seem to be perfect solutions for distance
education or ‘third generation’ technologies, they do not possess most of the
characteristics required of distance education (e.g., flexibility and cost-effectiveness).
At the same time, approaches that are considered as traditional (e.g., print and post)
can be used successfully, since they fulfil more than 50% of these criteria.
3. There is no one medium better than other; every medium and its technology has its
own features and these media should be selected and used according to the need of the
programme, tutors and students (e.g., the needed type of interaction, costs, etc.).
For example, although video-conferencing, in comparison with print and post, is a
two-way interactive medium, encourages interaction between the learner and the tutor and
between the learners and others, is suitable for group-based and collaborative learning and
fast in sending and receiving feedback, it does not facilitate student-content and student-
technology interaction, is not easy to be used by all tutors and students, is not easily to
7. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #6]
accessed at any time and from any place, needs to be supported by other types of media and is
not cost effective.
Similarly, although the development in computers and CD-ROMs has offered learner-
centred, self-paced and sophisticated multimedial solutions for learners using flexible storage
solutions, a common drawback is the isolation of learners from human tutoring. Therefore, an
important breakthrough in computing has been shaped by the networking and computer-
mediated communications concepts. The unprecedented growth in networking technology has
yielded a wide range of powerful and wide networks and has led to the world-wide
international network known as the Internet.
As the earlier breakthrough in computing has yielded the Internet, the second
remarkable breakthrough in the Internet was the World Wide Web protocol. The World Wide
Web has evolved new channels of delivery that have encouraged educators to present
materials in ways that did not exist a few years ago. In addition, it has offered many tools to
conduct asynchronous/synchronous interaction between the tutor and learners and among