Effective Distance Teaching

Many studies of adult learners indicate generally positive attitudes toward distance learning. One study looked at student perceptions of teaching behaviors and found five statistically significant factors in effective distance teaching; effective teachers used students' names, set clear purpose statements, used print materials, encouraged discussion, and did not speak in a monotone.

Research in effective course and curriculum design has focused on overcoming the differences between the distant and local classrooms. One study introduced "teletechniques," a set of components taken for granted in face-to-face instruction but not automatically found in distance education. These components include the need to humanize the teaching experience (create rapport with students); encourage participation (ensure interaction between students, and between students and teacher); attend to message style (vary tone of voice and volume, use videos and visual aids); and provide regular feedback (monitor student interest).

A synthetic model of student attrition in a distance education program is based on field research which has shown significance in reducing attrition in distance education programs (Billings, 1988). It contains four classes of variables and hypothesizes that attrition is a causal relationship which is based upon variables in the student's background, organization offering the course, the environment of the program and outcome/attitude which includes the student's attitude about the course, and the student's intention to complete the course which is used as the intervening variable.

At least one study has been done using the model (Lane, 1988). A survey instrument was constructed which consisted of 72 questions and administered to students enrolled in telecourses. Through factor analysis, 18 variables were identified. The null hypothesis stated that there is no significant difference in students reporting satisfaction with their telecourse and:

    1. Gender.
    2. Age.
    3. Class.
    4. GPA.
    5. Year in School.
    6. Previous telecourse experience.
    7. Work; employed, telecourse is job related, company pays tuition, work allows flex time to study, employer gives advice, information, feed back on education.
    8. Marital status.
    9. Family; family helps with house for study time, family values telecourse, family values graduation goal, student has private space to study.
    10. Distance from campus.
    11. Telecourse value for future employment.
    12. Required course/need for degree.
    13. Loyalty to school.
    14. Telecourse: interesting, stimulating, materials (text, study guide, handouts, video), lesson objectives are adequate to direct study, study guide kept you motivated.
    15. Content: difficulty, challenge.
    16. Lessons: lessons 1 & 2 too small, too large, easily managed; lessons 3 through end too small, too large, easily managed; units were paced to allow free time.
    17. Feedback: personal, timely, lessons, telecourse progress; member of study group, called classmates, have on-campus classes; called instructor #___ times, instructor called # ___ times; requested meeting w/instructor #___ times; instructor requested meet w/student #___ times.
    18. Felt isolated from: instructor, faculty, peers, resources, library, computers or felt general isolation.

Conclusions: Fifty-two percent of variance was explained by whether the course was required for graduation, lessons and isolation. The study reported a 95 percent certainty that an increase in the predictor variables, required course, lessons, and isolation is associated with an increase in the criterion variable satisfaction.

The relationships are positive for required course and lessons implying that if the course was required for graduation, and if students felt lessons were easily manageable and properly paced, their ranking of course satisfaction went up. The relationship for the variable isolation implies a negative relationship so that as students reported no sense of isolation their ranking of course satisfaction went up. As they experienced isolation their ranking of course satisfaction went down. For a complete report, contact Dr. Carla Lane.


Billings, Diane M, (1988). "A Conceptual Model of Correspondence Course Completion," American Journal of Distance Education, Vol 2, #2, pp 23 - 35.

Lane, Carla. (1988). "Video Instruction Program Student Satisfaction."

Pearson, Virginia. (1989). "Overcoming the Barriers: Strategic Planning for the Implementation of Distance Education Programs."

Wohlert, Harry S. (March, 1991), "German by Satellite, " in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, pp 107-118.

from "The Distance Learning Technology Resource Guide," by Carla Lane