How Design and Implementation of Distance Ed Courses Impact Learning

Students with Laptops in Classroom

In a recently published paper by the University of Minnesota, researchers looked at how different designs and implementations of distance education courses affected student learning and satisfaction in these courses. The study involved identifying three different types of interaction in these courses: Student-Student, Student-Teacher, and Student Contact.

Student-Student (SS) interaction consists of individual students or groups of students working together in both dynamic technologies such as video conferencing or static technologies such as discussion boards.

Student-Teacher (ST) interaction also uses many of the same technologies involved in SS interaction in distance learning. Face-to-face interaction is also observed under both SS and ST.

Student-Content (SC) interaction is defined as “reading informational texts, using study guides,watching videos, interacting with computer-based multimedia, using simulations, or usingcognitive support software (e.g. statistical software), searching for information, completing assignments, and working on projects”.

Meta analysis of the findings concluded that increasing the amount of instructional media conditions that promote distance education or instructional treatment (IT) had an overall positive effect on achievement. Also, combinations of SS with SC and ST with SC produced better results than SS with SC.  The study also found that there was no statistical significance in achievement between asynchronous, synchronous, and blended face-to-face learning for distance education. However, the strength of the instructional treatment in SC affected the outcome more than synchronous or mixed distance education conditions.

The main take away from the study is that while SS, ST, and SC interactions all have a positive effect on student learning, performing IT on all three types resulted in varying levels of impact. ST ITs contributed least to the amount of student learning compared to SS and SC ITs. The study also found that the strength of the instructional treatment also matters and that more complex ITs had a positive effect on student learning. Based on these findings, instructional designers should focus on SS and SC ITs as well as creating ITs that are suited for the course.

For more details including links, view the study abstract from the University of Minnesota.