Toward Meaningful and Sustained Online Distance Education Programs

March 1, 2001

Distance learning is education mediated by technology that takes place when participants are separated by space and/or time. Distance learning can take many forms, depending on the type of program and technologies involved. For instance, a course or program can be conducted completely through distance learning, or distance learning can be used to supplement face-to-face meetings. Distance learning can involve having participants meet at the same time in different locations (synchronous distance learning), or having participants work at their own time (asynchronous distance learning). Modes of collaboration supported by distance learning can include resource sharing, to open-ended and focussed discussions, and mentoring. Technologies used to support distance learning include print, telephone, broadcast television, one-way and two-way video, computers, and the Internet.

This paper summarizes findings from a review of a variety of distance learning programs that have been developed in the U.S. The purpose of this review was to identify key features of the design and implementation of these programs that have contributed to the creation of meaningful learning experiences and their sustainability. The distance learning programs that were included in this review came from a variety of sectors in education, including elementary and secondary education, teacher education, adult literacy education, and community-based education.