Introduction - The Bigger
Communication and Technologies
The NNC Experience - A Distance Learning Programme
Learning Environments - Fundamental Activities
Adult Learners - A Typology
Developments and Reflections on the Cutting Edge
The Bigger Picture
For the professional organization, the impact of distance or virtual learning seems clear. It is a mode of learning independent of time and space. It is flexible, just-in-time and at your convenience. For both formal and informal continuing education it opens a window of new opportunities.
For economic reasons traditional education has been biased towards standardization and institutionalization. Content is delivered in standardized packages and taught in institutions requiring the presence of the learner on scheduled time. But with distance learning some of these restraints disappear. You are not limited to the offerings of local schools or universities and learning takes place in a virtual environment. Learning can be embedded in a social and organizational context, where content can be designed or tailored for specific purposes and user groups.
Even if distance learning remains just an option it will be
an increasingly important one in the 21st century.
As concepts such as "lifelong learning & training" and "the learning organization" become even more vital, we will all have occasions to consider distance learning options and challenges.
When we are concerned with learning and communication activities, technology provides us with certain opportunities. In particular, the various technologies offer people opportunity for greater access, different types of access - such as voice, video, data, and graphics - and facility for faster access. Technology does only provide us with more and faster opportunities for learning and communication. It does not provide us with learning and communication per se. The problems inherent in the learning and communication process are not removed by that technology. In fact given the state of user unfriendliness of many of these technologies, problems in the learning and communication process are more likely to be exacerbated than minimized if not carefully addressed.
The NNC Experience
At The Nordic Net Center, we faced the challenge in 1996 and offered a distance learning programme aimed at Nordic and Baltic information professionals. By focusing on a highly dynamic and specialized content and context, web-site design, maintenance and development within a specific institutional context, the library and information-service sector, we were capable of offering a unique and targeted programme.
Obviously there was a demand. A group of more than 40 participant from the Nordic and Baltic countries registered for the first NNC distance learning programme with duration of two month.
The course was organized in seven modules. Course material was designed and adapted for the specific user group. The World Wide Web was used as delivery medium and an ftp-server was used as a shared space for presentations of small projects and assignments. A discussion forum for all participants was established to accommodate a shared knowledge space. It served as an essential forum for questions, comments and sharing of experiences as well as a forum for feedback on assignments and exercises.
Specifically, the use of a centralized discussion
forum(supporting asynchronous communication), the development of mailing lists, automatic
e-mail notification and reletive ease of use were identified as critical elements in the
successful implementation of a facility for the group communication.
The NNC model used a discussion forum available for ALL participants, however future development may implement a private discussion forum for groups of people working on a structured project or assignment. This will facilitate a mix of private and shared knowledge space, where participants have forum for focused non-monitored discussions as well as a forum to share and publicly display their projects and skills.
Public computer mediated conferencing could be extended by implementing videoconferencing, in particular useful for preliminary projects-reviews, evaluation and guidance.
Fundamental activities in a distance learning environment may involve:
Evaluation focused in particular on:
However problems were also addressed, in particular the
separation in time and space.
With distance learning and "separation in time and space there is a psychological and communications space to be crossed, a space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of the instructor and those of the learner"( Keegan D, 1988)
Ironically, the delivery mode intended to facilitate and
actuate communication across distances can itself set up obstacles to communication.
"More in this environment than in face-to-face setting, there is the potential for increased interpersonal distance, reduction in the amount and frequency of interaction, loss of feedback and interference in the transfer of messages"
In distance learning environments both the learner and the
instructor can feel too much interpersonal distance.
Distance-interaction is by obvious reasons not as rich a mode as face-to-face interaction. In this comparison distance-interaction is characterized by:
Evaluation available at http://www.nnc.dk/courses/distinfo.htm
- A Typolgy of Learner Styles and Instructional Roles
Grow(1991,1996) presents a useful typology of adult learners, dealing with different learner styles and instructional roles
|Stage 1||Dependent||Authority, Coach||Coaching with immediate feedback. Drill. Informational lecture. Overcoming deficiencies and resistance.|
|Stage 2||Interested||Motivator, guide||Inspiring lecture plus guided discussion. Goal-setting and learning strategies.|
|Stage 3||Involved||Facilitator||Discussion facilitated by teacher who participates as equal. Seminar. Group projects.|
|Stage 4||Self-directed||Consultant, delegator||Internship, dissertation, individual work or self-directed study-group.|
Grow, Gerald O. (1991/1996). "Teaching Learners to
be Self-Directed." Adult Education Quarterly, 41 (3),125-149.
Expanded version available online at:
Participants in the NNC course shared common characteristics with this typology of adult learners. The majority were characterized as interested and involved and some self-directed and intrinsically motivated. Many added value to the programme with a wealth of experience. Finally all were inclined toward practical and immediate application of the information they acquired, e.g. developing an institutional web-site or an intranet for their organization.
Similar the NNC team took on multiple and changing roles:
acting both as instructors, information designers, instructional developers, facilitators
We didn't perceive ourselves as the sole experts and information providers, but more like guides and facilitators.
In Brookfield's Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning the index entry for "Teacher" is: "Teacher see facilitator"
"Facilitators of learning see themselves as resources for learning, rather than as didactic instructors who have all the answers. They stress that they are engaged in democratic, student-centered enhancement of individual learning and that responsibility for setting the directions and methods of learning rests as much with the learners as with the educator. Facilitators are usually described as being "helping relationship"
In a Nordic perspective we have been witnessing several paradigmatic shifts in teaching and learning with the shift from instructor-centered education to student-centered learning as the most important.
When it comes to distance learning both learners and
instructors are on the cutting edge of educational practice. This edge is both a vital
challenge and a problem since there is no substantial empirical research on how effective
this type of learning is or what types of distance learning methods works best.
Current research on what types of digital media and materials facilitate learning is confusing and contradictory and largely dependent on the specific learning context. (Najjar, 1996)
In other words there are no standards of best practice and only a few guidelines and some rules of thumb.
The development of the NNC-distance programme is in a constant flux and we do not ignore some obvious disadvantages of computer- and www-mediated communication.
However reflecting more on the design of the distance learning environment can reduce some disadvantages.
Both of these factors can improve the quality, quantity, and patterns of learning and communication - a change that requires, in many cases, both instructors and participants to learn different roles.
Brookfield, Stephen D (1986):"Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning" Open University Press, England
Chinowsky & Goodman (1997) "The World Wide Web in Engineering Team Projects" In "Educational Telecommunication"; Vol 3 Nr.2/3, 1997
Grow, Gerald O. (1991/1996). "Teaching Learners to be
Self-Directed." In Adult Education Quarterly, 41 (3), 125-149.
Expanded version available online at:
Harasim, L., Hiltz, S.R.,Turoff M(1995).: "Learning Networks - A Field Guide to Teaching and Learning Online". Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995
Hong, J & Leifer(1995) "Using the WWW to support
In D Budny & B Herrick(eds), "Proceedings of the Frontiers in Education 25th Annual Conference(2c5.1-2c5.5), New York IEEE
Keegan D, (1988). "Theories of Distance Education". St. Martins Press
Najjar, 1996: Journal of educational multimedia and hypermedia 5(2) 129-150
Siggard Jensen, Sisse(1997) "Pædagogisk nytænkning udbedes" In S Siggard Jensen & M Ringsted(eds) "...med kridt og computer - brikker til en ny forståelse af fremtidens lærerprofession" SI - Statens Publikationer, 1997
Siggard Jensen, Sisse (1997) "Netuddannelser og
teknologisyn - et bidrag til en historik"
Forskningscenter for Pædagogisk IT-forskning
Danmarks Lærerhøjskole, 1997
Wolcot, Linda L(1996) "The Distance Teacher as
Reflective Practitioner." In Educational Technology Jan/Feb 1996