Running head: DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 1
Smalltown State University Distance Learning Program
Lola Gilbert, MISLT (MLS)
1216 Greenfield Place #201
O’Fallon, IL 62269
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 2
Business Proposal Summary
This proposal outlines the plan for addressing the challenges currently being experienced by the distance
learning program at Smalltown State University. Areas addressed include the following: faculty buy-in,
faculty development, policies addressing faculty concerns, faculty selection, faculty compensation, faculty
workload, faculty support, faculty satisfaction, online student services, faculty-student interaction, and
learning management systems.
Keywords: business plan proposal, distance learning, student satisfaction
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 3
Table of Contents
Section Subsection Subsection of Subsection Page
Current Situation 4
Existing Programs 4
Distance Program Issues 5
Central Leadership 5
Concerned Student Perspective 5
Areas to Address 8
Faculty Buy-in 8
Faculty Development 9
Policies Addressing Faculty
Faculty Selection 10
Faculty Compensation 10
Faculty Workload 10
Faculty Support 11
Faculty Satisfaction 11
Online Student Services 12
Faculty-Student Interaction 12
Learning Management Systems 13
Future Situation 14
Team Structure 15
Team Goals 15
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 4
Business Plan Proposal
The purpose of this business plan proposal is to examine the current issues affecting the distance
education program at Smalltown State University (SSU) and to explore possible methods for resolving
Three distance learning programs currently exist at SSU. During the last five years, the College
of Business implemented a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration distance learning program at
SSU. Shortly afterwards, the College of Arts and Sciences began offering courses online. Following that,
the Information Systems department launched its own distance learning courses. Each of the three
programs has its own leadership team and learning management system.
Distance Learning Programs by School
School Offerings Area Technology
College of Business
Bachelor of Science
Open Source Learning
College of Arts &
Courses Arts & Sciences
Courses Information Science Customized Web Pages
Image Caption: Table 1
According to the Office of Postsecondary Education’s 2006 report, institutions need to justify the
existence of any distance education programs that they provide. Institutions should also clarify the
mission of these distance education programs and how the program fits into to the mission of the school.
The report specifically addresses institutions with limited offerings, such as SSU, and advises institutions
what reviewers expect to find during the accreditation process, “For an institution that is offering courses
but no full programs, or only a program or two, the reviewer expects to find a well-articulated statement of
why the institution is developing the courses/programs. This might be included in planning documents or
be noted by the academic dean or department head during interviews” (Office of Postsecondary
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 5
Education, 2006, p. 4). The existence of a clearly defined distance education mission is necessary not
only to show just cause for having the program, but also for guiding the university with program planning
Distance program issues.
Smalltown State University has already determined the issues that are preventing the
current programs from being meeting an acceptable standard. The issues that have been identified are
the lack of central leadership and a concerned student perspective regarding the distance programs.
Students have expressed concerns regarding the lack of Student Services support that is available to
online distance learners, the varied levels of interaction received from online faculty, and the use of
multiple learning management systems.
At the present time, central leadership for the university’s distance learning programs is
non-existent. Undoubtedly, each program has done a commendable job of establishing and maintaining
its distance learning program. Learner enrollment in the programs is evidence that there is a need for a
distance learning program at this institution. Unfortunately, the dedicated efforts of each school have
resulted in three separate programs, with three different points of leadership. Each school program is
functioning as a silo, instead of joining their combined resources and talents to create a university wide
distance learning program. In 2001, the University of South Australia faced a similar situation. Under
considerable thought, it successfully restructured its separate distance learning programs under one
central leadership model, “From the outset, the university benefited from a strong central leadership that
forged a blueprint for institutional development” (King & McCausland, 2001, How Conversion is
Influenced section). An opportunity has presented itself and the time has come to combine this
institution’s wealth of knowledge, talents, resources, and ideas in order to develop one university-wide
distance learning program to offer its distance learning students. Implementing central leadership is the
first step in accomplishing this goal.
Concerned student perspective.
Understandably, learners that participate in the distance learning programs are
concerned about the inconsistencies that are present due to the lack of central leadership. Concerned
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 6
distance learners quite often become dissatisfied learners and either drop their current distance learning
course load or drop their distance learning program completely. Ravai and Downey (2010) reported that
despite the popularity of distance learning, retention rates in these programs are low , “Although the
growth of online learning is well document, a number of studies (e.g., Brady, 2001) provide evidence that
course completion and program-retention rates are generally lower in distance education courses than in
face-to-face courses” (p. 145). Revenues generated from learner tuition make it possible for the distance
education programs to exist in the first place. Loss of these revenues places the distance learning
programs in jeopardy. In order to ensure the continuation of these programs, then the existing student
concerns must be addressed. Items that need to be addressed include the lack of support from student
services that is provided to online students, the varied levels of interaction provided by faculty that teach
online courses, and the multiple learning management systems that are being used to provide distance
Lack of Student Services support available to online distance learners.
The majority of learners who participate in distance learning programs do so for similar reasons.
Learners want the convenience and flexibility inherent to online programs. Also, many are able to attend
institutions that are not within a feasible driving distance. Song, Singleton, Hill, and Koh supported this
reasoning when they wrote (2004), “For example, some sources indicate that online learning enables
institutions and/or instructors to reach new learners at a distance, increases convenience, and expands
educational opportunities (Bourne, McMaster, Rieger, & Campbell, 1997; Hara & Kling, 1999, 2001; Hill,
2002; Hofmann, 2002; Owston, 1997; Rourke, 2001; Schrum, 2000)” (p. 60). While these advantages
may exist, there are also disadvantages to online learning. Distance education learners often feel closed
off from the school because no physical link exists. Services that students attending courses onsite are
not available or do not provide adequate support to keep students enrolled. Rovai and Downey (2010)
assert, “Students in distance learning programs may be more like to experience isolation and alienation
from the institution because of their physical separation from the school and the services and from other
students” (p. 145). Successful distance learning programs must provide Student Services supports. The
types and availability of the supports will depend on the needs of the students who are enrolled in the
distance education courses and programs.
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 7
Varied levels of interaction received from online faculty.
Learners perform better when they have a clear understanding of the expectations and to what
level it needs to be accomplished. Even when provided with instructions, learners want feedback on their
performance from their instructor. According to Bradford and Wyatt (2010), “Indeed visibility if the key—
even more so than in a traditional classroom (Young, 2006). Howland and Moore (2002), support this
idea; instructor feedback greatly impacts students’ perception of the value of their work” (p. 110).
Consistency is crucial in helping students succeed. Feedback is not the only interaction that students
desire. Students will have questions and they want to know that if they contact their instructor that their
instructor will respond to them in a timely and consistent manner. Students want instructors who are
accessible. Bjorkland, Parente, and Sathianathan (2002) contend that faculty who want to create a
successful online environment will be perceived as accessible by their students , “Success in creating an
environment conducive to faculty-student interaction depends largely on the personality of the instructor
and to what extent the students think the instructor is accessible [12,14]” (p. S1B-14). Faculty members
who teach distance learning courses must understand and respond to the students’ need for feedback
and provide that feedback in a timely fashion that will allow students to succeed in their studies.
Multiple learning management systems.
Distance learners have expressed their dissatisfaction with the distance learning
programs using three different learning management systems. Many organizations do not have the
benefit of knowing what their customers think without completing timely and costly research. This
university has the luxury of knowing what its students’ concerns and the resources to address them.
Naveh, Tubin, and Pliskin believe that it is time to consider student satisfaction in the LMS equation,
“First, past research has shown that LMS use supports, rather than modifies, existing teaching and
learning approaches. Thus, it makes sense to redefine LMS success and shift indications of success
away from achieving a pedagogic revolution (Haraism, 2000) toward improving student satisfaction” (p.
128). The trick may be determining which of the existing systems to select. Further investigation into
what features and platforms students prefer and perform better with will help provide insight into which
learning management system will be the best option for this institution.
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 8
Imagine a distance learning program where the students get to spend their time learning about
business, psychology, art history, computer science, or whatever subject they are studying instead of
having to spend their time learning numerous learning management systems. Now consider reading
discussion posts and assignments that reflect that students are actually engaged and learning? How
about a program that retains its students long enough to have them graduate and enter the workforce?
Finally, what about a program that actually makes enough money to sustain itself? This is our vision. Our
vision can result in a successful distance learning program with a collaborative and supportive
environment for both students and faculty. But a vision isn’t enough. A vision needs a plan of action and
participants committed to goal of transforming it from a vision into a reality. Identifying the issues that are
preventing the vision from happening and replacing those issues with resolutions can be that plan of
action. Let’s examine those issues and some potential resolutions.
Areas to Address
In 2005, Kaye Shelton and George Saltsman conveyed that that administration must address the
following issues for a successful online program, “faculty buy-in, policies that address faculty concerns,
selection of faculty, faculty compensation, an understanding of faculty workloads, faculty support, and
faculty satisfaction” (p. 59). Creation of a collaborative distance learning program that supports students’
needs by addressing specific areas of online learning and instruction that will motivate faculty to teach
online courses and support faculty through the implementation of policies and procedures, a technological
infrastructure equipped to handle online instruction, support staff and resources, training, and professional
While there would be no need for distance education programs with students, there
would be no distance education program without faculty. Certainly, there are more people who make the
program possible than faculty. However, typically the efforts of those people are to support faculty,
students, or both. Faculty must buy-in to a distance education program in order for it to be successful.
According to Otte and Benke (2006), “The Sloan surveys  have indicated that faculty buy-in is the great
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 9
bottleneck, but then faculty sit precisely where workload concerns are concentrated and where perceived
threat by online instruction seems greatest. Such concerns cannot be waved away by mere training in
the technology” (Faculty Development section). Steps must be taken to ensure faculty that what is
presented before them is not a threat, but rather an opportunity that is accompanied by support.
Teaching online courses differs from teaching onsite courses. Course development is
different, especially if the teaching style most commonly used is lecture, or some other teacher-centered
approach. Faculty not accustomed to teaching with a learner-centered approach may need guidance on
how to structure their courses to fit this approach. Distance learning relies on technology. As
technologies emerge, it often makes sense to incorporate them into an existing course or to use when
planning a new course. Faculty who are required to meet such expectations should receive support
through faculty development. The Office of Postsecondary Education (2006) supported this practice
when they wrote, “Good training is broader than software training. It addresses distance education
pedagogy, with specific emphasis on instructional strategies to foster interaction, convey concepts, and to
assess student learning. It also provides guidance to a faculty member on how to translate onsite
courses to the distance delivery mode being used in order to achieve specific learning outcomes” (p. 8).
It only stands to reason that if an institution wants a quality program, then the institution needs to commit
to providing quality training and adequate support to its faculty members.
Policies addressing faculty concerns.
Distance education requires technology. Faculty members are often hesitant to embrace
technology for many reasons. McClean (2005) advised readers that ensuring the right structures are in
place is important in successful distance learning programs , “Faculty and staff development programs
must target not only individual skill and knowledge, but must also address contextual factors such as
organizational policies and institutional support structures if technology integration is to be a success
(Edmonds, 1999)” (Failure to Address section). Putting policies into place can help provide guidance
while also alleviating concerns. The implementation of needed policies is well within the scope of the
university administration and should be done prior to the onset of any major changes. Steps should be
taken to identify, develop or revise, and implement any needed policies.
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 10
If faculty hold a core responsibility in distance learning programs, then having quality
faculty is essential for a quality distance learning program. A process should be implemented to assess
the skills of distance learning faculty candidates prior to those individuals being placed into available
positions. In 2002, Tracy Wright and Linda Thompson of Northwest Technical College (NTC) supported
this premise when they wrote, “NTC expects distance courses to meet or exceed on-campus quality so it
pays attention to the factors supporting quality. Faculty selection is central to establishing a quality
learning experience for students. NTC recruits distance learners from its own established faculty focusing
on those who want to be part of a distance and have taught at least one-year on-campus” (Faculty
Involvement and Recruitment section). In addition, faculty should be given enough information to have a
clear understanding of the expectations and demands that often come with teaching online education
prior to accepting an online teaching position or course.
Compensation ranks high on the list of items that cause problems in distance education
programs. In 2003, Hentea, Shea, and Pennington reported that lack of adequate faculty compensation
can be a deal breaker, “A survey of instructors and students involved with distance education, suggested
that faculty compensation and time were the highest ranked barrier on reaching successful distance
learning programs” (Unsuccessful Learning section). Compensation is typically thought of as money,
although it can come in many forms such as assistance from instructional designers, technology experts,
or graduate teaching assistants.
Delivering distance education is a time consuming process. Unfortunately, in many
institutions the majority of the work falls to the faculty members who often are already managing heavy
workloads. It is difficult to recruit or maintain instructors when the work expended is immense and the
perceived rewards are few. O’Quinn and Corry shared some reasons faculty members choose not to
teach online courses in their 2002 article, “’Classroom faculty’ who had previously taught via distance
cited many of the same reasons as did their colleagues for not participating, mainly the heavy workload
involved in delivering distance education courses, the lack of rewards and the absence of intellectual
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 11
property rights” (Analysis of Faculty Responses section). Proper distribution of course loads, along with
support from other departments such as the library, Information Technology, Copyright Clearance Center,
and continual evaluation of faculty workloads can help alleviate the problem of workload overload.
Policies addressing course loads and intellectual property rights should be established prior to course
Support, much like compensation, can come in many forms. Some of those forms may
include, but are not limited to assistance from others, resources or tools, or any other means to help
make delivering education easier and less of time constraint. While administrators may not be providing
the actual support, making support systems available is within the scope of their position as well as one of
their many responsibilities. Shelton and Saltsman (2005) reminded administrators and other readers of
this fact when they wrote, “Institutions can provide to faculty course creators in different ways such as
instructional design support including intellectual property and copyright, technical support and media
creation, and allowing faculty to work as a design team rather than just individually” (p. 75). When one
considers the collaborative nature of distance learning environments it only makes sense that that
courses would be developed in a collaborative environment as well.
Many factors, not just one, contribute to faculty satisfaction or lack thereof. As in any job,
the environment or organizational culture, compensation, benefits, and professional development
opportunities contribute to job satisfaction. It is no different for faculty members. Wasilik (2009) outlined
the areas of job satisfaction with which most faculty are concerned, “Issues of faculty satisfaction in the
online environment can be categorized into three groups; (a)student-related, (b)teaching –related, and (c)
institution-related (“Faculty Satisfaction, “ 2006; Wiesenberg & Stacey, 2005)” (p. 174). Addressing these
three areas is essential in order to define the components that create satisfied employees.
As the reason for the existence of any learning program, it is the learners that make the program
necessary. Without learners there is no need for any program. Just as differences exist in distance
learning faculty as compared to traditional onsite faculty, there exist very real differences in the needs,
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 12
skills, and goals of distance learners compared to traditional students. Institutions must address and
respond to the diverse needs of this student population, “As distance education continues to expand its
course offerings, student services must catch up and alter the traditional format of support services to
meet the needs of this newest population of learners” (Raphael, 2006, Conclusion section). More flexible
hours or hours of availability, user friendly documents, and perhaps even offering virtual support are a few
ways that can change the concerns that online students currently have into satisfaction.
Online student services.
Student services are provided on campuses for the simple reason that students need
them. The fact that students do not physically visit a campus does not make their need for these services
any less. In fact, it may be the case that online students need services even more than onsite students.
Dr. Amy Raphael (2006), Director of Career Services at Barry University asserted, “As many distance
learners work more than 40 hours per week outside of the home in a job unrelated to their status as a
student, they are clearly committed individuals undertaking a variety of roles. (Schwitzer, Ancis, & Brown,
2001); Thompson, 1999). These students want what they need, when they need it, in a variety of
formats” (What Services Are Perceived section). Further examination to determine the exact needs of
distance learning students will determine the needs to address. Analysis of the needs will yield guidance
with how to best meet those needs.
According to Tomei (2006), Teacher-student interaction plays perhaps the pivotal role in
student attitudes about online learning and distance education. Research accepts that student attitudes,
in turn, are significantly affected by the manner and degree of this interaction (Simmons, 1991; Ritchie &
Newby, 1989)” (p. 532). Learners expect a certain level of interaction from their instructors. They depend
on the comments of the instructor to determine how they performing and to provide clarification for
questions that they might have. Interactions also help instructors gain insight as to what one, or many,
students may be confused about. Bender (2003) supported this assertion when she wrote, “Students can
pool their knowledge and learn new concepts, and feel safe admitting if they are confused. Admission of
confusion is often a ripe launching point, if a new explanation is given, for the student to hopefully
experience the wonderful feeling of pure insight and clarity, as the new concept makes sense and
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 13
becomes meaningful” (p. 30). Not only do the amount and quality of these interactions affect students’
attitudes, but they can also affect the quality of a student’s performance in the course. Picciano (2002)
wrote, “Interaction may indicate presence but is also possible for a student to interact by posting a
message on an electronic bulletin board while not necessarily feeling that she or he is part of a group or
class. If they are different, then it is also possible that the interaction and presence can affect student
performance independently” (Introduction section). Students with a sense of belonging often perform
better than those students who feel alienated. Interactions from instructors can help give those students
who do feel alienated a sense of belonging through encouragement or by introducing them to group.
Since work overload can affect the amount and quality of interactions faculty members
have with their students, course size and coursed distribution should be considered heavily in order to
achieve a manageable balance. Tomei (2006) reported that the ideal online course size is around ten
students, “Finally the ideal class size was calculated for each instructional format. The ideal traditional
class size was 17 students while the ideal online class size was 12 students” (p. 540). Policies should be
developed and implemented in order to ensure proper course size.
Learning management systems.
The most prevalent and growing technology that has recently emerged is mobile
technologies using SmartPhones. While SmartPhones are wonderful tools for accessing and
downloading information, they are not the most efficient tool for inputting information. Badge, Johnson,
Mosley, and Cann (2011) asserted the following, “The nature of mobile devices means that they score
highly for flexibility, but other than for audio and video, are poor input devices. For example, it is
challenging to enter large amounts of text (Nielsen Norman Group, 2008).” (p. 91). Simply put, a variety
of technologies that are compatible with each other offers faculty and students the optimal environment.
Today's learners, and tomorrow's, are quite adept at using multiple platforms or methods,
for completing courses. While current and emerging technologies offer opportunities for courses to
provide a more engaging environment for learners, implementing and providing support for such
technologies can prove overwhelming for some institutions, while lack of support can prove frustrating to
learners. An institution that is committed to ensuring the success of its program must provide adequate
support for both technology and instructional design with adequately trained support staff.
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 14
While current trends indicate that social media and mobile technologies will be the
standard distance education technologies of the future, further learner assessment and collaborations
with faculty and other designated departments will need to occur in order to select the most appropriate
technologies and a standardized learning management system.
A coordinated distance learning program needs central leadership with unified departments. This
consolidation will both solidify the program and provide students with a sense of attending one school
instead of several. It will also put the responsibility of dealing with technical problems and delivering
courses where it belongs, with the university and not with the students.
Image Caption: Organizational Chart Addressing Distance Education Program Issues
Distance Learning Program Goals
Goal 1 Coordinated learning program with central leadership.
Positive student perspective due to online student services support, consistent levels of
interaction from online faculty, and a single standardized learning management system.
Bachelor of Science Degree Open Source Learning Management System.
A Support for online students from student services.
B Consistent levels of interaction from online faculty.
C A single standardized learning management system.
Image Caption: Table 2
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 15
The creation of a Distance Learning Program Planning Team will bring together a core group of
individuals with different skills, but one common vision. A central leader will guide the team of many
diverse representatives. The team will plan and develop a university-wide distance learning program with
the input of those they see necessary who may not be included on the team.
Program Administrator (leader)
Faculty members from the applicable programs
Student representatives from applicable programs
Information Technologies representative
Student Services representative
Team goals will provide direction for the Distance Learning Program Planning team. Goals may
be added or revised as determined by the team.
o Develop coordinate distance learning program with central leadership
Develop time-line for future program
Define member roles
Develop necessary policies and procedures to administer program including, but
not limited to, faculty expectations and learner expectations.
Investigate and select learner management system
Design, develop, and integrate modules into learning management system
Implement technology support for faculty, support staff, and students
Implement training program and develop training tools necessary to adequately
prepare faculty, support staff, and learners to use learning management system.
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 16
One benefit of a distance learning program with central leadership and a satisfied student
perception include faculty who desire to teach and are qualified in teaching online courses who will be
provided adequate support in order to help them provide quality courses while maintaining job
Another benefit of the newly designed program will be that students will be able to focus on
completing their courses and their programs, instead of focusing on issues that the university should
address and resolve. Less concern will result in more satisfaction, which will help strengthen the student
retention rates and contribute more revenues to the university.
Most plans contain both benefits and challenges, this plan is no different. Planning and
implementing new program structures take time and cost money. Also, as with any change there will be
those who will be reluctant or hesitant to commit to a new program. These are challenges that all
organizations implementing any kind of change face. They are also challenges that many organizations
have shown, can be overcome.
It is the role and the responsibility of the distance education program administrator to ensure the
successful existence of the distance education program. Distance programs consist of many
components. According to Simonson (2009), “Anthony Kaye’s (1981) four subsystems of a distance
education system—the regulatory subsystem, course subsystem, student subsystem, and logistical
subsystem. The distance education manager could be responsible for part or all of any of all of these
subsystems” (p. 322). The administrator’s role cannot be accomplished by the administrator alone. It
must be a university-wide process to plan, develop, implement, and maintain a program that is both
successful and self-sustaining. Howell, Saba, Lindsay, and Williams (2004) advised some and reminded
other administrators that it is a team process, “These strategic plans must be developed not in isolation at
the institutional level but by engaging those at the department and college levels such that much of the
control for these initiatives is strategically localized” (p. 46). It is the administrator’s job to make sure that
those who should be included are included and to also make sure that they have any needed resources.
DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAM RECOVERY PLAN 17
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