Instructional Delivery

School was all about routine. Get up at 6:00 am., eat a“healthy” breakfast — like coffee and donuts — gather up the homework and run for the bus. Once at school, I would head to homeroom, find my seat (the desk and chairs bolted to the floor), pull out my books and listen to the teachers lecture for the next eight hours. The materials we had to work with were limited — dated textbooks, a set of encyclopedias that said“someday man will land on the moon” and a small collection of books available in the library. I have to give the teachers credit, because I did learn a lot in school, but I could have learned so much more with the resources available to students now.

With the introduction of the computer and the Web into the classroom, things have dramatically changed. The entire world is now at our fingertips, and teaching/learning styles are changing to take advantage of these new technologies. Learning is no longer about lecture and routine, it is about collaboration and discovery. Course offerings are not limited by small libraries or teachers who are skilled in specific subjects. Distance courses fill the gap.

More than one-third of public school districts have students enrolled in distance education courses. Large districts, rural districts and districts with higher concentrations of poverty make up a greater proportion of those that use distance learning to enhance their educational offerings. Of the total enrollments in distance education programs, 68 percent were at the high school level, the most popular distance courses covering social studies/social sciences. Half of the districts using distance education courses have their students enrolled in Advanced Placement or college-level courses.

The technology used for delivering distance education courses varies by district. Courses can be delivered (interactive or static) via the Internet, two-way interactive video or one-way prerecorded video. Small and rural districts tend to opt for two-way interactive video as the primary instructional delivery mode. Medium and large, urban and suburban districts opt for Internet courses using asynchronous computer-based instruction. Contrary to popular belief, the addition of distance education as an instructional delivery type does little to ease the need for facilities. In fact, it heightens the need to replace schools that are outdated and obsolete. Of the districts with students enrolled in online distance education courses, 92 percent had students accessing distance education courses from school.

The power of distance education is in its ability to allow districts to offer courses that would not have otherwise been available to its students, including remedial, Advanced Placement and college-level courses or courses tailored to the special needs of specific groups of students. About half of these distance courses aregenerated by postsecondary institutions. Another third are delivered by schools within their district, other schools or districts within their state. Other sources may include education service agencies within their state, state virtual schools or independent vendors.

Like it or not, distance learning is here to stay. Limiting factors revolve around technology infrastructure; course quality and development; federal, state and local laws or policies; and money — not around success. In fact, three-quarters of districts with students enrolled in distance courses plan to expand their course offerings. Fortunately, most of these distance courses will be accessed at school. What students can’t get with distance learning are the social components of education. In addition to the coursework, students need student-to-student interaction and socialization. Academic honesty and participation must still be monitored. Self-paced, self-directed learning experiences are great, but I don’t know many high school students that have the self-discipline necessary to get the most out of the experience.

Distance learning without the school experience may not be the answer. But add the Web and distance learning opportunities to student experiences in a more traditional school setting and you have just opened up the world.