Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Lesson 5



Creating Distance Learning Courses

Lesson One
The Dynamics of Teaching and Learning at a Distance


In this introduction to distance learning you'll be discovering more about the unique dynamics of teaching and learning at a distance, reviewing the characteristics of distance learning students at the UW and elsewhere, and considering some national standards for the creation of effective coursework. You'll also be using an electronic discussion forum to post information about yourself and your preliminary reactions to what you've reviewed.


Book Icon Required Reading
  • Read through the following lesson, keeping in mind your particular topic area and potential learner population. After your lesson, we will have an online discussion on this topic

When you complete this lesson you will be able to:

  • describe critical differences between classroom and distance learning environments;
  • detail the characteristics of distance learners; and
  • outline the structure and features of an effective distance learning course.

What is Distance Learning?

"What is Distance Education? Distance Education is instructional delivery that does not constrain the student to be physically present in the same location as the instructor. Historically, Distance Education meant correspondence study. Today, audio, video, and computer technologies are more common delivery modes."
--defined by Virginia Steiner.
The Distance Learning Resource Network (DLRN)

This definition of distance learning, like most others, emphasizes the gap in time and space between educators and their students, and focuses on the use of technology to bridge that gap.

Although they may be separated geographically, students and teachers in distance learning are not isolated from one another, but maintain regular interaction through telephone, e-mail, or similar means. More than just delivering content, teachers in distance learning provide an ongoing tutorial relationship to students, assist with questions, challenge students to stretch their imaginations and critical faculties, and provide regular feedback on students' submitted work.

Unique Dynamics

At its core, distance education in any format is still a transaction between teacher and learner. But it does change the relationship between them. An educator in a traditional classroom is most concerned with delivering the course content. The majority of the teacher's time and energy during the course is simply devoted to presenting the content through lectures and demonstrations. In distance learning, much (if not all) of the content is prepared in advance and embodied in printed materials, audio or videotapes, World Wide Web (WWW) pages, or other media.

When learners enroll in a distance learning course, they assume a high degree of individual responsibility for their learning, working with these prepared materials to learn the terms, concepts, and skills presented there. The faculty member, no longer occupied with preparing and presenting content, now focuses on working with the student to master the content by answering questions, stimulating critical reflection, and, most importantly, giving the student high-quality feedback and assessment of his or her performance on assignments and examinations. This focus on feedback emphasizes what is most valuable to the student in their educational experience: the guidance and expert judgment of a faculty member who alone can judge whether and to what extent the student is mastering the information, concepts, and skills the course seeks to impart.

However, where interaction among students is important to the success of a particular learning experience, for example when students must complete group projects or where they are expected to learn from one another through discussion and the sharing of ideas, grouped learning is both appropriate and possible. Many successful distance learning courses combine both group and individual learning by requiring a limited commitment to scheduled group activities with substantial independent learning. This approach effectively provides the benefits of group interaction without sacrificing the convenience and flexibility that are the preeminent benefits of distance education.

Throughout the distance education process, faculty retain control over the content of instruction as well as the evaluation of students' progress. Through regular graded assignments and proctored examinations, faculty assess students' mastery of course material and provide appropriate feedback to students.

Additional Resources

Distance Education: An Introduction Farhad Saba, PhD. Professor of Educational Technology. San Diego State University saba@cts.com

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