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Distance learning is rapidly becoming pervasive in every aspect of education. Today’s information technology enables self-paced learning with some degree of distance from teaching professionals. Higher institutions sometimes begin this online delivery system without fully examining the academic soundness of this approach. Other considerations are administrative matters involving the hardware, software, and service needed to execute the new methodology apart from regular traditional based classroom, and most importantly, the impact on the students and instructors.
Distance learning: Problem, Effect and Benefit Mohd Saleh bin Haji Idris 1.0 Introduction Distance learning is rapidly becoming pervasive in every aspect of education. Today’s information technology enables self-paced learning with some degree of distance from teaching professionals. Higher institutions sometimes begin this online delivery system without fully examining the academic soundness of this approach. Other considerations are administrative matters involving the hardware, software, and service needed to execute the new methodology apart from regular traditional based classroom, and most importantly, the impact on the students and instructors. 2.0 Problem and purpose of the study The process of converting a traditional classroom course into a course taught through other media such as CD-ROM, video conferencing and the Internet involves many issues. Although the technology of distance learning gets most of the attention, it's really teaching strategies and style which have the most impact on the quality of learning in distance programs. Facilitating learning communities at a distance requires some new approaches to the practice of managing the teaching and learning process. Effective faculty start with a completely new mind set about where technology fits into the equation. Rather than struggling to make up for qualities distance programs are perceived to lack when compared to traditional classrooms, faculty members who are most successful with distance technologies see them as actually providing some qualitative advantages. One of many differences between traditional classroom courses and distance delivery is personal, physical interaction, with the instructor and with fellow classmates. 1 What effect does this have on learning outcome? This study identifies issues and concerns, which must be considered to develop a successful distance delivery course. This study has a purpose of providing the student with the best possible scenario where learning outcome will be maximized is the goal of course development. This applies to distance learning course delivery undergoing in Open University of Malaysia (OUM) as it is today. 3.0 The Study 3.1 Methodology The purpose of the questionnaire was to identify the issues and concerns students have about distance learning. There were 12 questions focusing on the following areas: 1. Demographics 2. Importance of interaction with instructor 3. Learning outcome 4. What group of student benefits most from a distance education course? 5. Why does a particular group benefit? The questionnaire was administered during monthly class session via convenient sampling to one Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) class in Open University of Malaysia (OUM) Bangi branch campus. The survey was piloted to a specific group of students consist of 12 male and 13 female. Of the 25 questionnaires handed out, 22 were returned, an 88.0 percent response rate. The questionnaire was based on answers to qualitative, and four point 2 interval-scaling questions. (See Appendix 1 for an example of the questionnaire administered). 3 4.0 Summary of Findings 4.1.1 Demographics A total of 22 questionnaires were returned. Of this total, 10 respondents were female (45.0 percent) and 12 were male (55.0 percent). Out of that, 16 respondents were married (72.2 percent), 5 respondents were single (22.7 percent) and 1 respondent was a single parent (5.1 percent). 14 respondents were in managerial and administration positions (67.0 percent), 2 were in non-managerial and administration (9.0 percent) and 6 were self employed (24.0 percent) All the respondents were Bachelor in Business Administration students in Open University Malaysia (OUM) Bangi branch campus. Chart 1: Class Demographic 4 Chart 2: Student’s Employment Background Self Employed, 6 Managerial and administration Non- positions , 14 Managerial and administration positions , 2 4.2.1 Interaction with Instructor Survey questions also concerned about student-instructor interaction. The questionnaire addressed the importance given to student and instructor interaction, which affects how well students learn. The implied definition of interaction was direct physical interaction like that observed in the traditional classroom. Communication via e-mail and chat rooms could have also been interpreted while face-to-face interaction with an instructor during regular office hours was also considered interaction. Survey shown that there was a primary choice for “it is very important to interact with instructor” with 19 out of 22 (86.3 percent) responses. The second most responds are “interaction with instructor in se veral ways” with 3 of 22 (13.7 percent). 5 On question on how “these interactions have a great effect on learning outcome?” stated that 14 of 22 respondents (63.6 percent) interviewed have agreed that these interactions had a great effect on them; while 6 of 22 (27.2 percent) respondents had chosen that there interactions were effective in several aspects of their learning processes. Only 2 out of 22 (9.09 percent) respondents interviewed had agreed that these “interactions were effective but not necessary”. See Chart 3. Chart 3: Effect of Interaction 6 4.3.1 Learning Outcome Examined next is the effect on learning outcome (success in the classroom) by interaction with and by the physical presence of an instructor. Four questions dealt with this issue. The results (Chart 4) showed that 19 of the total 22 (86.3 percent) felt that interaction with an instructor would have an effect on learning outcome. For physical presence alone, 3 respondents (17.0 percent) felt that it was not necessary for success in the classroom. Yet, 18 respondents (83.0 percent) indicated that physical presence affects their success in a class. The last two questions dealt with instructor presence and self-motivation. The majority of respondents out 19 out of 22 respondents felt they would learn less if they were not self-motivated and instructors were not present. Over 50 percent of students stated they would learn the same if they were self-motivated and the instructor were not present. 7 Chart 4: Effect of Learning Outcomes 4.4.1 Benefits Identifying who benefits most from distance delivery and why they benefit was examined in the next set of questions. Respondents were asked to respond with multiple answers in relation to each question. For who would benefit most, a total of 17 responses were made with “full-time worker attending classes” being selected (77.2 percent). Respondents were also asked to answer whether they had ever had any experience with a distance education course. Of the 22 responses only 6 respondents (27.2 percent) answered yes. Respondents who had experience with distance education had more concrete suggestions and comments directly related to delivery of a course via distance delivery than those who had none. 8 Table 1: Who Will Benefit the Most? No Categories Responses 1 Executive 2 2 Full-time worker 17 3 Self employed 2 4 Others 1 At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to comment on any concerns that they might have on distance education which were not included in the survey questions. 4.5.1 Comments and suggestions on distance education which were not included in the survey questions. Concerns and suggestion column in the last part of the survey included feedback to students regarding work completed, honesty of students(s), lack of organization, technical issues, lack of hands on experience, and instructor accessibility for student questions. Many respondents liked the idea of distance education and mentioned the possibility of no longer having to revolve their life around school hours. Others commented that it would not be a good idea for many people who are not self directed or self-motivated and need to have interaction through the classroom. 9 5.0 Conclusion The goal of this study was to identify issues and concerns that Open University of Malaysia (OUM) Bangi branch and Bachelor in Business Administration programme students have with distance education. An issue identified was interaction with an instructor. Respondent responses showed this to be very important for learning. When developing a distance delivery course, institutions must provide a way for students and instructor to interact. Possible approaches suggested by respondents were chat rooms, a toll-free number, and regular physical meeting in a classroom. On the other hand, respondents who had experience with distance education mentioned the confusion involved with chat rooms and the ineffectiveness concerned with a physical meeting. But they also stated that these could have been effective had they been organized and implemented in a better way. Classmate interaction is also important. The sharing of ideas helps in the understanding of the course material. In this survey students did not state any ideas about possible means to accomplish this interaction. Another issue identified was that distance education does not work for everyone. Through the questions involving instructor physical presence and self-motivation, most respondents felt that without self-motivation the success in a distance education course would not be good. In other words, the respondents believe that students who would be best suited for a distance education course are ones who are self directed and self- motivated. This leads to the questions involving who benefits and why. The list of choices provided for who benefits were people who had other responsibilities in their life besides school such as work and family. 10 What does this have to do with self-motivation? For adults with other responsibilities, time is a precious commodity and self-motivation determines how well available time is managed. One possible concern with this study was that majority of the respondents were male and all the respondents were mostly working adults. However, this is fairly typical of the demographics of current Open University of Malaysia (OUM) students. If the study were done with students from another educational institution, the results could be different. 11 REFERENCES Buckley, Francis J. (2000) Team Teaching: What, Why, and How? Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Dringus, L.P. (2000). Towards Active Online Learning. A Dramatic Shift in Perspective for Learners. The Internet and Higher Education, 2:4, 189-195. Edie K. Schmidt and Ana Galle, Distance Learning: Issues and Concerns of Distance Learners in Journal of Industrial Technology Volume 17, Number 3 - May 2001 to July 2001 Hiola, Y. and Moss, D. (1990). Characteristics of Distance Learners at the University of Terbuka (Open University) Indonesia. Distance Education 11(1): 116124. Paloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (1999). Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass. 12
"Distance learning: Problem, Effect and Benefit"