I remember early on in my adult education career a veteran adult education administrator told David Baker and I that “preplanning prevents poor performance”. That quote has stayed with me since 1999. It rings true when you are thinking about bringing a distance learning (DL) option to your program. There are sooooooo many things that a program needs to consider in order to find success with a DL program.
It is not my intention to touch on everything one needs to consider in this particular blog entry. It is my intention to provide some food for thought on some of the high points. Then I would like to hear from you. 🙂
1. Research information on distance learning and find out what others are doing that is working. Interestingly enough, when we first started the i-Pathways statewide effort in Illinois in 2002, we were on the cutting edge of DL in adult ed. At that point in time there was not a lot of information out there. We were definitely feeling our way in IL. Well, we have come a long way since then. There is no reason to recreate the wheel and feel your way through. With a little research and networking a program can (and should) have a good foundation of knowledge before diving into online/distance learning.
2. A couple of bubbles need to be busted that relate to online learning. Bubble #1, it is easier to teach and learn online. It is not easier to teach or learn online, as a matter of fact it is probably fairly comparable to just starting out in the traditional classroom for both the teacher and the learner. The teacher will have a learning curve with the curriculum and the features and functionality. The student will have to get use to learning at a distance. Setting aside time to get online is a must for students. Just like in a traditional classroom a student has to set aside time to go to class. I can draw parallels for so many things. Bubble #2, if an online/distance curriculum is purchased, that is all a program really needs to make distance learning successful at a program. This is not true, it takes time to streamline processes and procedures. Distance learning success does not happen over night. Expect that you will get out of it, what you put into it as far as planning time, effort, and dedication. Bubble #3, retention should be higher because people have access to the curriculum from their homes or anywhere. The retention rate is not higher for online classes and there are SO many things that feed into that statement. That will be the focus of several upcoming blogs I am sure.
3. A formalized implementation plan that is in print that everyone knows exists is so important to online learning success. There are several topics that need to be addressed as a program visions a good, solid implementation plan. Here are just a few of the topics for discussion . (a) Goals for the DL offering. (b) Target audience. (c) Plans for marketing to that target audience. (d) Screening criteria. AND SO MUCH MORE.
Thinking all of this through in some preplanning sessions will help you prevent poor performance when you are looking at bringing a distance learning option to your program. No worries if you have already started and are not seeing success. It is never too late to put on the breaks and do some planning.