ECT 300 EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY: What are some of the problematic issues facing distance education?

CHAPTER 9

DISTANCE EDUCATION

9b ii). Discuss some of the problems facing distance education.

9.9 Problems constraints facing distance education.

Most of the problems are experienced by students, the most important of which are discussed hereunder. The first problem faced by distance education students is that of isolation (Tony Dodds p.10). Contact with other students and staff is an important aspect of learning and the external mode limits such contact. If understanding needs to be constructed it is difficult for many students to do so in isolation or in the absence of guidance. In many existing distance education systems, individual student contact with other students is essentially non-existence. This is not recommended as frequent contacts allow students to make errors in the presence of their friends and errors are less pronounced when made among friends, and in such a case students are allowed to develop the valuable skill of self-correction. Distance education, therefore, needs to set up circumstances in which students develop self-direction through a process of mediated interaction. Amundsen and Bernard(1989:105) say that distance education should attempt to reintegrate the act of teaching as mediation in which the learner takes an active part as the appropriator of the messages in a dialogue fashion. Daniel and Marquis (1979) see distance education as being made-up of two kinds of activities.

  • Independent activities where the student works alone such as reading text, watching the television, doing an experiment or writing an assignment.
  • Interactive activities which bring the student into contact with other people. This contact can be in the form of telephone conversations

The second problem indirectly experienced by students is that distance education encourages rote learning. Though the principal mode of instruction is print, it is increasingly impossible to provide students with enough reading materials. As a result of this and other cost related problems the lecturers tend to give handouts or dictate notes (Tony Dods p.11).

For an institution running conventional programs also this ma eventually lead to the “black market” effect where campus-based students miss lecturers and settle for lecture notes made for distance education students since the notes they make during lectures are not as reliable. The lectures in return do not give elaborate reading assignments as the students have limited access to reading materials. The net result is that students rely on the handouts as the only source of information and the examinations many follow the same pattern as the lectures tends to set form the handouts or the dictated notes. Remember the old joke about lectures “Lectures are a way to transfer material from the lecturers notes to the student’s notes without passing through the mind of either/”

The third problem facing distance education students it he fact that most of them would have been outside formal education for long (Tony Dodds p.11).

The fourth problem facing distance educations is due to the flexibility that is in built in most of the programs. The flexibility provided by the distance education mode often becomes a negative factor and leads to non –completion of courses. A general characteristic of distance education programs is that of dropping out. There is a higher tendency to drop out at the start of the courses and this maybe due to a number of variables such as family or work pressures, lack of strong study motivation or incapacity to work independently and in some cases lack of prerequisite e knowledge and skills. The dropout rate with such a flexible approach tends to the 50% mark. (Daniel and Marquis 1979:34). They disagree with Holmberg (1995) by suggesting that the more freedom a learner has, the less likely s/he is to complete the course. It is advisable to pace the students and monitor them so that they succeed rather than allow freedom that might lead to failure. Learners should be encouraged to work within deadlines and get some instant feedback so that s/he is aware of any progress or to otherwise.

Other problems are normally faced by institutions running distance education programs, and these include firstly lack of capital investment necessary to establish a widely distributed network of broadband carriers. Most of the institutions start distance education programs because they lack basic facilities to absorb all the interested applicants. This lack of funds and by implication a facility ripples over and affects the quality of the distance education program. The intuition will most likely be unable to stock its existing library/resource center with the required materials. It will further be unable to establish, man and equip regional centers to the satisfaction of the student. Another area that will suffer as a result of these shortcomings will be planned visits to the centers, which will in turn reduce the level of interaction considerably. Lack of capital investment will in fact lower the quality of the education.

The second problem facing institutions is lack of a cost structure favorable to the purchase of necessary hardware both by institutions and by students. For an institution to run a distance education program there is need to purchase modern equipment to prepare the course materials as well as to equip the libraries, workshops and laboratories. The students need to have the financial capacity to finance their studies. In developing countries the students mostly rely on their meager earnings to pay the fees, and as a result are unable to purchase the necessary reading and learning materials.

The third problem facing institutions running distance education is due to lack of favorable telecommunication tariff structure. One of the ways through which students can reduce the effect of physical isolation is by interacting with their tutors through the telephone, fax or lately the e-mail. These channels unfortunately are out of reacts for almost all the distance education students. They cannot afford to interact with the tutors to get assistance on assignments and projects. They are also unable because of prohibitive costs to access materials from the latest journals and periodicals on the internet. This poses a challenge to provide an education that achieve parity with conventional provision in quality, quantity and status (MacDonald 1990:103)

The fourth constraint faced by institutions running distance education is unavailability of course were. As mentioned earlier cost constraints hinder the institution from supplying learners with sufficient learning materials. In some cases it is even impossible to supply course outlines and learners photocopy them at their own cot. It can even lead to failure to use multimedia approach due to unavailability of a wide range of resources such as computers, radio, television, video materials etc.

The last constraint faced by institutions running distance education is unavailability of courseware. As mentioned earlier cost constraints hinder the institution from supplying learners with sufficient learning materials. In some cases it is even impossible to supply course outlines and learners photocopy them at their own cost. It can even lead to failure to use multi media approach due to unavailability of a wide range of resources such as computers, radio, television, video materials etc.

The last constraint faced by institutions is lack of staff development programs for academic staff and support staff. In most cases the institution does not employ new staff but utilizes existing staff to run the distance education program Smith and Sheath (in Keegan 1991:98) recommends that distance education should be a part of the conventional system and be undertaken by the same full time academic staff. This further ensures similarity in quality of the work covered between convention and distance education students. This may overload the staff and in the long run low the quality of education for both groups of students.

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