E-mail comments to the Editor
Download the complete PDF
of this issue
This is the executive summary of a 54-page study published by the NEA
in June 2000. It provides key data for planners and administrators in
understanding the rapid shift to incorporate online learning into school
and college programs. The complete version is available for viewing or
printing at http://www.nea.org/he/abouthe/dlstudy.pdf
Survey of Traditional and Distance Learning Higher Education Members
The National Education Association
Summary And Strategic Recommendations
distance learning courses and faculty teaching traditional courses hold
positive opinions about distance learning, primarily because distance
learning courses offer educational opportunities to students who would
not otherwise enroll in courses. While, faculty believe they will be hurt
financially by distance learning, and financial considerations are very
important to them, at the current time, their enthusiasm for offering
an education to more students outweighs these concerns.
The picture of
distance learning presented in this report is representative of distance
learning as it is occurring at traditional public two-year and four-year
colleges and universities with NEA members. These distance learning courses
are taught by full-time faculty to relatively small classes of students
using technologies that are highly interactive. The results presented
here, including the positive ratings and high course completion rates,
may not apply to distance learning courses at other types of institutions.
Growth Of Distance Learning Courses
Currently, one in
10 higher education NEA members teaches a distance learning course. Furthermore,
90% of NEA members who teach traditional courses tell us that distance
learning courses are offered or being considered at their institution.
Because increasing numbers of colleges and universities and more
NEA members are offering distance learning courses, NEA
commissioned this study. The conclusions are intended to help NEA shape
policies for distance learning courses so that students receive a good
education and distance learning faculty receive fair treatment.
Learning Faculty: What Do They Look Like?
between distance learning and traditional faculty
- Distance learning NEA members
and NEA members who teach traditional courses have similar demographic
profiles, largely because distance learning faculty spend most of their
time teaching traditional courses.
- Distance learning NEA members
resemble traditional faculty in that they are full time (89%), tenured
(73 %), split evenly between full professors (35%) and lecturers and
adjuncts (35%), hold masters' degrees (48%) rather than a Ph.D.
(3 1 %).
- These findings
appear to dispel the notion that traditional faculty are being replaced
by part-time distance learning faculty who offer one course, with
the following caveat. Our survey only includes distance learning
faculty who are NEA members. Part-time faculty who teach a single
distance learning course would be less likely to be NEA members.
- Both distance learning and
traditional faculty are most likely to teach at statewide institutions
with multiple campuses (50%) rather than district (23%) or single campus
- Distance learning courses
are not concentrated in a few academic fields. Distance learning and
traditional courses are similarly distributed across fields.
between distance learning and traditional faculty
- Distance learning and traditional
faculty differ somewhat in that distance learning faculty are more likely
to teach at a community college (distance learning faculty = 68%, traditional
faculty = 54%), and slightly less likely to be over the age of 55 (df
= 25 %, tf=34%).
Learning Technology: Communicating With Students
We see two basic
types of distance learning courses: Web-based courses (44%) and those
relying primarily on video technologies (54%)
DL is defined
as courses with more than half of the instruction taking place when students
and faculty are in different locations
- Forty percent (40%) of faculty
teaching a Web-based course hold a very positive view, compared to only
25% of those whose distance learning course is not a Web-based course.
- Virtually all of the faculty
teaching distance learning courses use an interactive technology to
teach their courses.
- Only 2%
of faculty tell us that their distance learning course relies exclusively
on one-way pre-recorded videos.
- E-mail is the dominant
means of communication employed by faculty and students outside of the
normal instruction time.
percent (83%) of faculty teaching Web-based courses use e-mail to
communicate with a typical student in their class once a week or
- Almost half (42%) of
faculty teaching courses that are not Web-based use e-mail to communicate
with a typical student once a week or more.
- A significant proportion
of distance learning faculty never see their students in a face-to-face
- Only 30%
of Web-based faculty and 19% of faculty whose distance learningcourse
is not Web-based see their students once a week or more.
courses with frequent faculty-student interaction are more successful
- Almost all distance
learning faculty (96%) have some type of one-on-one interaction with
their students either through e-mail, telephone, chat rooms,
threaded discussion groups, or a face-to-face meeting. Faculty teaching
courses with more student interaction are also more likely than their
counterparts with less student interaction to hold an overall more positive
attitude toward their distance course. Faculty with frequent student
interaction also give their distance learning course higher ratings
on meeting the goals NEA has determined are essential to a quality education.
The Course: Institutional Support, Faculty Rights, And Compensation
technical support give their DL courses better ratings
- Three-fourths (76%) of distance
learning faculty rate the technical support, library, and laboratory
facilities for their course as excellent or good.
- Technical support
is significantly more important to overall feelings about distance
learning than attributes related to the type of institution or the
type of student in the course.
- The majority of distance
learning faculty (70%) report that workshops and training sessions on
teaching distance learning courses are available to them on a regular
basis, and a similar majority of faculty have participated in a training
- When policy
regarding distance learning is included in the collective bargaining
agreement, the institution is significantly more likely to offer
distance learning training courses on a regular basis.
- In considering whether they
are the content designer or the manager of information in their courses,
37% say the designer of content, 20% say the manager of information,
and 41% say both.
more time on their DL course, with no course reduction and no additional
- Over half (53%) of distance
learning faculty spend more hours per week preparing and delivering
their distance learning course than they do for a comparable traditional
course, compared to only 22% who spend fewer hours.
- Even those
faculty who have taught their distance learning course eight times
or more spend more hours (48%) rather than fewer hours (21%) on
their distance learning course.
- In spite of spending more
hours on their distance learning course, most (84%) of faculty get no
course reduction, and 63% of distance learning faculty are compensated
for their distance learning course as if it were part of their normal
percent (73%) of Web-based distance learning faculty are compensated
as part of their normal course load.
Learning Students: What Do They Look Like?
students at traditional, public higher education institutions do not fit
- In contrast to stereotypes
of distance learning students as older, part-time students, NTEA faculty
teach as many younger students as older students and as many full-time
students as part-time students. The largest percentage of courses (38%)
have an equal mix of students over and under 25 years of age. The remainder
are evenly divided between mostly under 25 years of age (27%) and above
25 years of age (27%).
- Since the largest percentage
of NEA members teach in undergraduate institutions (78% of distance
faculty, 70% of traditional faculty), we also find that distance learning
courses are primarily undergraduate courses (82%) rather than graduate
courses (16%), and most of the courses fulfill a requirement (70%) rather
than being offered as an elective (20%).
- Two-thirds of faculty report
that their distance learning course has a limit on the maximum number
of students who can enroll. Faculty teaching courses with enrollment
limits regardless of whether the limit is high or low
hold more positive feelings about distance learning.
- Also in contrast with stereotypes,
we find that the distance learning classes that NEA members teach are
not large, most of the classes are entirely composed of students taking
the course for credit and students are nearby.
- Two-thirds of distance learning
faculty teach a course with 40 or fewer students. Only 6 respondents
teach a course with over 200 students. Class size is not related to
ratings of distance learning courses among courses with under 100 students.
We cannot comment on what happens in very large courses.
- A majority of the distance
learning faculty (56%) report that most of their distance learning students
live within one hour of campus, and another third (32%) report that
their distance learning students live mostly in the state but more than
an hour's drive away. Only 4% of the distance learning faculty report
that most of their distance learning students are from out of state.
- The largest percentage of
faculty (63%) report that most distance learning students are enrolled
on another campus of the same institution offering the course. Relatively
few (19%) report that most students are enrolled at another institution.
Potential And The Concerns: What Faculty Think About Distance Learning
positive opinions toward distance learning courses
- Among distance learning
faculty, 72% hold positive feelings, compared to only 14% who hold negative
- Traditional faculty are
somewhat less positive 5I% hold positive feelings toward distance
learning courses, compared to 22% who hold negative feelings. A significant
proportion (28%) of traditional faculty remain undecided and are waiting
to see the implications of these courses for students, their institution
- Faculty who teach Web-based
courses have more positive opinions about distance learning courses.
Correlations that exist between faculty opinions about distance learning
and most other factors are greatly reduced when we control for whether
the course is a Web-based course or a course that is not dependent upon
indicate that DL shortcomings are outweighed by the possibility of educating
- Faculty evaluate distance
learning primarily on quality of education considerations and secondarily
on more traditional union considerations. In particular, faculty believe
that distance learning courses reach students who would not otherwise
take a course and allow smaller institutions to offer a richer curriculum.
- Considering the list of
10 possible negative outcomes of distance learning, faculty tell us
that three outcomes would concern them the most, if they did in fact
occur. Two of these most important outcomes relate to traditional union
concerns and faculty think they are very likely to occur:
will do more work for the same amount of pay;
will not be fairly compensated for their intellectual property.
- Faculty think the other
most important possible outcome is unlikely to occur:
- The quality
of education would decline.
- At the current time, faculty
believe they will be hurt financially by distance learning, and financial
considerations are very important to them. However, the prospect of
being able to offer an education to students who could not otherwise
enroll in a course outweighs these concerns.
- Traditional and distance
learning faculty rank the following concerns as not likely to occur,
and somewhat less important to them, even if they do occur:
- Fewer jobs;
in the quality of faculty;
- Less candidness
in the classroom.
courses fare better against traditional courses than courses not based
on the Web
- When we separate Web-based
courses from not-Web-based courses, we find that faculty teaching Web-based
courses give their distance learning courses a better rating than their
traditional courses on meeting these five goals:
- Giving the
students access to information;
students with high quality course material;
students master the subject matter;
the educational effectiveness of the course;
the variety of student learning styles.
- Faculty teaching Web-based
courses give their distance learning course the same rating as their
traditional course on meeting the first two of the following goals and
a worse rating on the last three goals:
students' group problem-solving skills;
students deliver better oral presentations.