3. The Effectiveness and Costs of Distance Education


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The Effectiveness and Costs of Distance Education

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  • Can someone out there help me with full reference for Curran (1991). I would like to go to his work on marginal cost function
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3. The Effectiveness and Costs of Distance Education

  1. 1. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #3] The Effectiveness and Costs of Distance Education The effectiveness of distance education A debate in the educational technology literature about the effect of the distance education media on the ‘learning outcomes’ is reflected in the writing of Adams and Hamm (1988), Clark (1994, b), Jonassen et al. (1994), Kozma (1994) and Vargo (1997). The debate presents two opposing viewpoints. On the one hand, the medium used to deliver an educational programme can affect only the efficiency of delivery, not the outcomes of the learning. For example, television can facilitate reaching a wide range of learners (using cables or satellite) and reduce the time of learning (using audio-visual presentation). However, there are no significant differences between the results of students who learn by television and others who learn in traditional classes. On the other hand, the medium can have an impact on the learning outcomes apart from its capabilities as a delivery medium. For example, using television affect students’ performance and attitudes. In addition, television is easy to access and can reach thousands of students outside the class. A review of the literature showed that the majority of studies agree with the first point of view (that using the medium can affect only the efficiency of delivery, not the outcomes of learning). For example: 1. Schramm (1977) claims that the instructional strategy, rather than the medium, influences the learning process. 2. Adams and Hamm (1988) note that the instructional approach affects the development in learners’ achievement. However the medium affects only the interaction between learners and the medium. 3. Clarke (1994) emphasises that media and their attributes have an important influence on the cost or speed of learning, but only the use of adequate instructional methods influences learning acquired. However, stating another point of view, Morrison (1994) raised the criticism that studies ‘do not allow researchers or those interpreting the results to determine how much of the variability is due to the teaching strategy and how much is due to the medium’ (p. 42). Jonassen et al. (1994) believe that the debate about the effectiveness of media should focus 1
  2. 2. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #3] not solely on the effectiveness of the media on learning outcomes, but also on the process of learning, the nature of the learning environment and the features that support this learning. Kozma (1994) provided another useful point of view. He claims that research should consider the ways in which the medium can be used to influence learning for particular students, tasks and situations. From a similar point of view, Vargo (1997) has agreed with Kozma by claiming that the system should concern the learning process rather than the influence of the medium. He believes that systems use various methods and media in complex social settings and all these components work together to yield learning outcomes. Many studies have been conducted to compare the effectiveness of distance learning technologies on learning (Barker and Platten 1988; Beare 1989; Ritchie and Newby 1989). A particular focus of such studies has been to compare the achievement of distance education students with traditional classroom students. The majority of these studies have shown that distance education students achieve as well as, or better than, traditional classroom students. Costs of distance education technology Since distance education relies on technology to deliver instruction and support the learner, it can be argued that a great part of its cost is that of technology (e.g., equipment, materials, operation, etc.). Costs vary between institutions according to the type of technology and programme. Curran (1991) and Bates (1995) noted that institutions that use the cheapest forms of technology do not provide support for students and encourage interaction. However, others (non-conventional systems) use expensive technology in which tutorial-style interaction is usually incorporated. In other words, the costs of distance education programmes depend on the choice of media. There are forms of distance education which involve personal tutoring (using telephone, for example) and others are based on textbooks only as a self learning approach (Rumble, 1999). However, Rumble (1989) highlighted that many factors affect the costs of distance education technologies. For example: 1. The period over which costs are compared. 2. Inflation rates and changes in currency exchange rates. 3. The length of the study period. 2
  3. 3. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #3] 4. The number of learners. The literature reflects many different ways and approaches for looking at the costs of distance education technology. Thomas (1988), for example, used the ‘value-added’ approach to evaluate a computer-based conferencing system (as a two-way communication system). He argued that the advantages of such a programme should receive more attention than the costs. Jamison et al. (1978) used ‘cost functions’ to evaluate and compare the total cost of different radio and television projects (e.g., The Nicaraguan Radio Mathematics Project, The Mexican Radio Primaria and the Stanford Instructional Television System). He recommended that educators should pay more attention to the average cost of these systems and media (as shown below). Bates (1991) broke down technology costs into three components, as an approach to understanding the cost structure for each technology. These elements are: 1. Production: which includes the costs of designing and developing teaching materials. 2. Delivery: the costs of each delivery medium which is used to get materials to distance students (e.g., post mail, telephone rent, television transmission, etc.). 3. Support: which includes the administration, facilitators’ and tutors’ salaries. Overall, Jamison (1977), Wanger (1982), Markowitz (1987), Curran (1991) and Bates (1995) distinguish between different types of costs of distance education technology: fixed costs, variable costs, average cost and direct and indirect costs. Fixed costs are the initial costs of purchasing the equipment. These costs do not depend on the size of audiences or number of courses in the programme. However, variable costs depend on the size of audiences and number of courses in each programme (e.g., costs of teachers, materials, etc.). Production costs can be considered as variable costs as they depend on the costs of designing, developing and producing the course. However, delivery costs vary according to the medium. For example, in broadcasting, delivery costs are the costs of transmission, while in tapes the delivery costs are the costs of mail. Average cost is the cost of a programme for each student per study hour. Marginal costs are the costs of adding one or more units of output to the system. Curran (1991) suggests a simple function to calculate the marginal cost for student per hour as follows: MC = TC ( N + 1) − TC ( N ) 3
  4. 4. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #3] where: MC is the marginal cost per student per hour TC (N+1) is the cost of the system with after adding a new unit TC (N) is the cost of the system Jamison (1977) argues that the total cost function can be approximated using the fixed and the variable costs per student the following formula: F AC ( N ) = + V N where: AC (N) is the cost per number of students F is the fixed cost N is the number of students V is the variable costs Jamison emphasised that the above function gives a reasonable approximation to the cost behaviour of an instructional technology system, making it possible to find the cost for each student, taking into account the fixed and the variable costs, which may not remain constant. Considering Wanger’s calculation (1982) of the average cost of any system (the total cost divided by the units of output), and Jamison’s earlier function (1977), Bates presents the following function that gives the dollar cost per student (students being the unit or the unit of output for distance education) contact hour for an educational technology system, as follows: t $= h×n where: $ is the cost per student contact hour t is the total of the variable costs h is the average of studying hours n is the total number of students who studied the course. Bates argues that this function may be useful for estimating the costs before a project begins, or for evaluating the costs and benefits of a whole system. 4
  5. 5. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #3] Rumble (1997) pointed to other important types of costs related to distance education technology. These costs are direct costs, indirect costs and overhead costs. According to Rumble’s approach the total cost can be explained and calculated as below (Table 2-3). Table 2-3: Total costs of educational technology system Elements Example Costs Direct costs The costs of designing, The costs of rough materials, producing and distribution. machines, developers’ salaries, mail, etc. Indirect costs The costs that cannot be The costs of equipment the students directly attributed to the use to run the teaching materials (e.g., production. computers, TV) Overhead costs Costs other than direct and Like the selling and administrative indirect costs costs. Total costs = Direct cost + Indirect cost + Overhead cost The various earlier approaches for finding the cost of educational technology systems in general can provide a good background for developers to understand the cost-related factors that effect the selecting and developing of these systems. More importantly, these approaches can contribute in minimising the additional or unimportant stages associated with the delivery or presentation of teaching materials for distance students. Considering the earlier approaches for defining costs, Jamison et al. (1978) suggested a cost function that can estimate the total cost of using broadcasting. This function has been given as follows: TC = C C + C P + CT + C R where: CC = central costs (costs of research, planning and start up the programme) PP = programming costs (production equipment, facilities, etc.) TT = transmission costs (transmission operation and equipment) RR = reception costs (receivers, power, etc.) Using recent technologies which have the ability to accomplish high-level objectives of interaction and support for distance education accompanied by high fixed costs, these costs 5
  6. 6. TECH4101: Distance Education & the Internet [Document #3] tend to fall due to the long time of use and the number of learners who can be reached world- wide (as by television and satellite). 6