Transitioning to e-Learning: Pedagogical and Support Considerations
Michael W. Churton
Historically, open and distance learning has meant providing access to instructional content in which learners and their instructor(s) are assisted to overcome the communication barriers of location, time, and most recently pace (Churton, 2000). At its most basic level, distance education occurs when an instructor and student(s) are separated by physical distance. Due to development in education and the emergence of technological diversity and instructional design, the element of communicating in real time is now a reality. Tam (1998) suggested that distance learning has transcended various chronological landmarks and transformations in nomenclature, format, style, delivery applications, and numbers served. This rapid and diverse expansion of open and distance learning has led some to question the qualitative implications of such programs and have called for standards or benchmarks to demonstrate programmatic quality and integrity (Churton, 2001). As the global marketplace promotes the acceleration of open and distance educational opportunities, international linkages, overseas campuses, collaborative partnerships with multiple universities and other transnational relations, instructional quality and integrity remain keys to effectiveness and sustainability. For reasons of infrastructure, cultural diversity, educational regulations, languages and real costs, the challenges in providing a quality and comprehensive education can be quite difficult. As developed and transitioning countries consider the development and/or expansion of open and distance learning, quality control and the necessary support systems to ensure programmatic integrity are essential. It is the responsibility of policy-makers to identify and apply appropriate curricula design, development, support and evaluation measures to ensure that their distance learners and their distance learning instructors experience an effective transition to a distance learning environment. Distant learners should have the same level of academic integrity as students who attend campus based programs. Hastily conceived and designed distance learning programs will create not only student and instructor discontent but political concernsas well (Churton, 2000c). The premise of this paper suggests benchmarks in curricula design, development, support, and transition to ensure that open and distance learning programs yield effective student outcomes.