A Teacher's Guide to Distance Learning
The original form of distance learning was correspondence courses, in which print materials were mailed to students and returned to the teachers through the postal system. Even though there are numerous new options for distance learning, print remains a significant component of most courses.
Print materials may serve as the primary source of instruction, or they may be supplemental. As a primary source, distance students might use a textbook and read various units on a specific timetable. Other technologies, such as e-mail, could then be used to ask questions or send assignments back to the teacher.
As a supplement to instruction, text materials may take the form of worksheets or study guides that are used in conjunction with video or voice technologies. It is important to note that the supplemental print materials may be disseminated via regular mail or over the Internet. In addition, fax machines are often used to transmit the print materials back and forth between the students and the teachers. There are many advantages and disadvantages to incorporating print materials.
Advantages of Print Materials
- Extremely portable. Print materials can be used in any location.
- High comfort level. Most students are very comfortable using print materials to learn.
- Cost effective. Print materials can be created and duplicated with little expense.
- Readily available. Many distance learning courses can take advantage of existing textbooks, thus saving the time and expense of creating custom materials.
Disadvantages of Print Materials
- No interactions. Print materials do not generally provide built-in interactions. Additional technologies, such as e-mail, must be supplemented.
- No audio/visual elements. Print materials are static and are not appropriate for teaching languages and visual concepts.
- Require reading skills. If the learners are non-readers or language skills are required, print materials will not be effective.
- Time delay. It may take days or weeks for printed matter to travel between student and teacher.
Guidelines for Incorporating Print Materials
- Distribute print materials well in advance. Although the mail system is generally quite reliable, issues may arise if the print materials are not distributed well enough in advance.
- Include clear directions for use. Students need to know exactly which print materials they are responsible for reading and the specified timeline.
- Require interactions. Print materials are inherently non-interactive. Therefore, you must design for the required interactions. In some cases, this may mean a specified timeline for e-mail messages, or a required number of postings to a listserve.
- Specify a timeline. Distribute a timeline for students to help them organize their study learning activities.
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Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1999, 2009.