Vol. 11, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

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Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM,
Vol. 11, No. 1. 
1546-2676. Editor: Dorothy I. Mitstifer. Official publication of Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society. Member, Association of College Honor Societies. Copyright © 1999. Kappa Omicron Nu FORUM is a refereed, semi-annual publication serving the profession of family and consumer sciences. The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the society. Further information: Kappa Omicron Nu, PO Box 798, Okemos, MI 48805-0798. Telephone: (727) 940-2658 ext. 2003

Interested in submitting an article to KON FORUM? Papers are now being accepted for review.


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Kappa Omicron Nu


Model for Distance Learning using Advanced Information Infrastructures

Joan Laughlin

Dr. Laughlin1 is Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Research, College of Human Resources and Family Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


The information infrastructure has been used to facilitate any time, any place learning, by maximizing student-to-student interaction, student-to-faculty interaction and student-with content interaction in University of Nebraska’s Interdepartmental Human Resources and Family Sciences Master of Science degree program. Emphasis is placed on effective instructional design rather than on the technology tools used to deliver education. Since inception of the program in 1994, thirty-five students have completed the M.S. degree, without needing to come to campus, by using satellite down-links, VCR tapes, email, faxes, telephone bridges, and the Internet for teamwork and discussions. Effective uses of mixed media require faculty to redesign courses using instructional design based on models of experiential learning. One unanticipated spin-off of the successful extended education teaching is that many faculty chose to adapt this instructional design to their on-campus classes. The conversation about instructional design and good teaching has enriched the college through the resultant emphasis on teaching and has provided an appropriate balance with discussions about research and outreach.

Any time, any place learning using information infrastructures has changed students’ expectations of access to education. Many examples of classrooms without walls and campuses without buildings exist (The Western Governors’ University and the University of Phoenix); however, one of the dangers in using mixed media to deliver instruction is getting caught up in the technology toys. Extended educational delivery is not about using computerized teaching tools or multimedia software to replace instructors and classroom teaching; rather it is about using instructional design to incorporate technology as a means to provide access to education for underserved persons, including adult learners.

Competition and campus mandates will push and pull many institutions into using information infrastructures to provide access and to serve the educational needs of both on-campus and off-campus learners. Faculty who are preparing to teach extended education courses often raise concerns about being technology-literate enough to teach in the distance education environment. Yet, more important than full understanding of the information infrastructure is understanding how to use technology to achieve the goals of the learner and instructor, in the context of the content and the objectives of the course.

Without effective instructional design, technology-assisted distance education can be disastrous: students surfing pages on the Internet using the mouse button like a couch potato uses the remote “clicker;” or a video of the professor as a talking head (a la Max Headroom). Lectures may not be the most productive learning environment. “In the average lecture, the instructor delivers about 5,000 spoken words, of which students record only about 500” (Oblinger & Rush, 1997, p. 10). “Research on the effectiveness of lecture does not support it as the best method of developing learner competencies of critical thinking, problem solving, and lifelong learning” (Oblinger & Rush, 1997, p. 9).

Technology-assisted instruction is more effective when faculty switch roles from functioning as transmitters of information to becoming designers of learning environments and experiences (Angelo, 1997). Research shows that in most classrooms, interactions between faculty and students are limited to a few individuals. “In classes under 40 students, four or five students dominate the interactions” (Oblinger & Rush, 1997, p. 10). “Experience decisively shapes individual understanding” (Ewell, 1997, p. 4) in learner-centered classrooms. “Educators… combine… theories of different learning styles and student-constructed knowledge with the theory of practice-centered learning. Instead of being passive recipients of knowledge, we now consider students capable of constructing their own knowledge with guidance from the teacher” (Berge & Collins, 1995). The overarching goal of involving the learner is to focus the responsibility on the learner. “How many times do you hear faculty fret, ‘I have so much content to cover’?… Why do we assume that it is the faculty member’s responsibility to cover? Why not set objectives for the students and let them explore and drive their own learning? The technology exists that will enable them to do so” (Hooker, 1997, p. 27).

For students, knowing how to learn is the important priority, and faculty can take on the roles of coaches, guides, and master learners. The question is one of how to improve learner productivity (Hooker, 1997). Active learning works best when learners are presented with a compelling problem that requires reflection and have opportunities for interaction and support (Ewell, 1997). “The critical factors in learning are… stimuli, responses, feedback, and reinforcement. A stimulus is provided, usually in the form of a short presentation of content. Next, a response is demanded, often via a question” (Reeves & Reeves, 1997, p. 60). Learners should reach metacognition; that is, achieve awareness of objectives, develop the ability to plan and evaluate learning strategies, monitor their own progress, and adjust self-learning behaviors (Reeves & Reeves, 1997, p. 62) to accomplish learning.

Applying Experiential Learning Theory in Distance Education

The Graduate Faculty of the UN-L College of Human Resources and Family Sciences have adopted active or experiential instructional design for distance learning classes. The integral parts of this instructional design model are: (a) learner-centered objectives, (b) brief presentations of content, (c) activities or experiences that use that content, (d) reflective analysis or synthesis of generalizations that reinforce that learning, and (e) assessment of student outcomes to ensure that objectives have been attained. This is an iterative cycle, where the current learning builds on the previous learning. Learners explore relationships, make connections, and participate in application experiences, thus increasing the likelihood of retention.

The challenge for faculty, then, is to focus on development of “content-rich” learning experiences, rather than focus on full and complete understanding of technology used for delivery. An analogy is that I expect my car to start, to run, to transport me where I need to go; but I don’t need full and complete understanding of how internal combustion engines work. When my car doesn’t work right, I take it to “Skip” to fix it. In similar ways, others are the experts to help with the technology: producers, engineers, and camera-persons for satellite delivery and producing videotapes; computer technicians for Web-based instruction and computer-mediated-conferencing. Faculty design instruction that includes brief content sessions and experiences that enable students to synthesize new understandings and to integrate with previous knowledge and experiences. Faculty plan for student conceptualization of generalizations from the learning activities, for application of synthesized learnings to new situations, and for ways to assess learner outcomes.

How do these extended education offerings differ from earlier efforts in correspondence courses or in using audio networks? One important difference is the media used to deliver courses. Course delivery includes videotapes of lecturettes, case studies, interviews, trigger incidents for students’ analysis and feedback. Class “discussions” are held on the World Wide Web. Students may discuss class topics with all students or work with groups of students on team projects. The WWW-based groupware is used for interactions between students, within teams of students, and between faculty and students. To use the groupware, students need to have access to a computer with a Web browser and a local internet service provider. Students complete and submit assignments in the “courseroom,” a password protected area accessible to registered students only.

The complete program of studies leading to a M.S. in the UN-L Interdepartmental Human Resources and Family Sciences area is available for students without ever having to come to campus. The students complete a 36-hour program of studies that includes 18 hours in Family and Consumer Sciences, 6 hours in Nutritional Science and Dietetics, 6 hours in Textiles, Clothing and Design, 3 hours in research methods, and 3 hours in statistics. In addition to the course work, students take written comprehensive examinations and complete an Option III project which requires them to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as the ability to use “new knowledge” as consumers of research. No substantive changes to the program of studies were made for the extended education degree program.

The Interdepartmental Graduate Committee (the graduate committee for the Interdepartmental area program in Human Resources and Family Sciences) worked with the Administrative Advisory Council, the faculty, and the departments to identify specific courses and faculty to teach these 12 courses: FACS 906, Consumer and Family Economics; FACS 980, The Family in a Cross-Cultural Perspective; TXCD 811, Recent Developments in Textiles; NUTR 800, Contemporary Nutrition; HRFS 875, Research Methods; FACS 872, The Adolescent in the Family; FACS 907, Family Financial Management; BIOM 896, Statistical Decision Making; NUTR 855, Nutrition: A Focus on Life Stages; TXCD 870, Textile Economics; FACS 815, Advanced Instructional Theory in Family and Consumer Sciences; and FACS 987, Family Strengths. In addition to degree-seeking students, others have enrolled in courses to meet personal objectives, such as teacher certification renewal, Registered Dietitian renewal, continuing education units, or professional development units for renewal of Certification in Family and Consumer Sciences.

Distance education students access library resources through student visits to a research library, and/or through Internet connectivity to UN-L library special support services from Kate Adams, liaison librarian for distance education. Individual students access the library’s database through the WWW to the IRIS system, identify an article they want, and then the library staff retrieve the article, photocopy it, and mail or FAX it to student(s). Students access the Expanded Academic Index (EAI) to do an enhanced periodical search (provides author, title, subject and keyword searching of journals of economics, philosophy, psychology, medicine, drama, nutrition, literature, law, and engineering through IRIS, using “unlgrad1” student accounts.

One challenge in the delivery of the program has been to provide “one stop” student services through the college Deans’ office. To facilitate planning, a mythical graduate student who had never set foot (nor would ever set foot) on campus was pictured. With such a student in mind, we reviewed every step a student would need to complete in order to apply, be accepted, matriculate, register for each course, take care of special situations and requests, apply for the degree, and to graduate (including ordering academic attire, for although students study at-a-distance, many choose to attend graduation). On-campus students learn such things as how to secure advisor approval as needed, learn to deliver documents to appropriate offices, etc. Because extended education students have no cognitive map of the campus and its bureaucracy, special student services are needed to support them. Support staff who take everything in stride and are reassuring, helpful, and informed are essential to the success of the program.

Does experiential learning instructional design used with technology work for graduate education? The graduate faculty is pleased to share that it does. The first cohort of extended education students started in August 1994 and completed course work in August 1997. A second cohort of students from Nebraska as well as across the nation participated in the 1995-98 program. To date, thirty-eight (38) women have earned their M.S. degrees using technology-enabled interaction with faculty and other students2. When the program began in 1994, satellite broadcast from the classroom or studio was used, supplemented by telephones for one-way video, two-way audio interaction in a synchronous delivery (learners and teachers met at a scheduled time). Now, professors are using the World Wide Web for asynchronous communication, along with videotapes (For example, visit Courses that meet at this site are password protected.).

Who are the students? The profile of students includes full-time employees, full-time spouses and parents of children ranging in age from toddlers to teens and young adults. One extended education student commented: “Enrolling in classes keeps my fifty-something-year old brain stimulated and learning.” Distance or scheduling commitments keeps students from coming to campus. In fact, only one of the graduates would have come to campus for the degree program if it were not made available to her via distance education. “This program is the difference between obtaining a Masters degree or not” according to one student. These students were “new students” to us, students who would not have had access to graduate education if the extended education degree program were not in place. An additional benefit is that the distance education program increases the course selection for on-campus students. Some courses with limited enrollment have sustaining enrollment due to the extended education students whose numbers help these courses meet “minimum class size” standards. Thus, if a course had been offered as an on-campus course only, it would have been canceled due to low enrollment. With the distance education component, the class meets or exceeds minimum enrollment standards, and thus avoids cancellation, permitting a wider course selection for on-campus students.

Many of the students have experienced life-altering events, including births of children, divorce, widowhood, illness of family members, responsibilities for elder care; but, the distance education program meant they could remain at “home” to deal with these events without interruption of the educational program. A graduate of the program explained: “I chose distance learning for personal growth, at my husband’s insistence. Since my husband’s death (during my first year of studies), I now am responsible for the family farm and college education of my children. I also live 400 miles from campus. This program enabled me to complete the Masters degree to qualify for a professional position.” One extended education student said: “This happened to me…, but distance education provided the opportunity for me to update teaching strategies and change perspectives.”

Current (students in the third cohort, 1998-2002) degree-seeking students reside within the contiguous United States and Hawaii, along with Guam and Thailand. Enrollment covers the United States “coast to coast” (South Carolina to California) and “border to border” (Texas to Wisconsin). The cohort of students who matriculated for the program of study Fall 1998, will take one class each semester and summer and complete the Option III project and written comprehensive exams. This cohort of 36 students are from Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Thailand, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Lessons Learned

Each year, formative evaluations were completed. Among the objectives of the formative evaluation are to determine if distance education students perceive convenience and economic advantages. Most agree that distance education is an opportunity to meet personal goals, to advance their careers, and to contribute to the economic stability of their families (Table 1); however, their comments indicate that class time is an additional element in their busy lives. Students express a great deal of concern about the time required to study in preparation for classes and examinations, to complete assignments, and to retrieve resources from the library. They had not anticipated these demands on their time, although they had recognized that time would be required to attend class.

Table 1. Graduate students’ attitudes about distance education.





An opportunity to advance my career




An opportunity to lead to an alternate career




An opportunity to refresh my skills to return to my career




To meet my personal goals




To meet goals my family have for me




To contribute to the economic stability of my family




(5=strongly agree; 1=strongly disagree)

Students frequently express heartfelt appreciation of the distance education degree program. One said: “Distance education has made it possible for me to fulfill a long-term goal to do a Master’s degree. It is impossible for me to commute or move the nearly 200 miles to campus. When the opportunity arose to get the degree through distance education, it was like an answer to my prayers. “

Students shared initial concerns about technology and about using the Internet to search for journal articles in the library and order the reprints. However, by the second course, they were more comfortable with delivery, and now volunteer their favorite and least favorite delivery preferences. Students have high expectations for faculty performance, for technology, and for relevance of course content, as commonly would be expected of adult learners.

The graduate students grow accustomed to distance education technologies. They experience success with class content and delivery, develop rapport with the cohort group of students, understand how to best access the faculty teaching the class, develop facility with using e-mail and Internet access to the library, and are persisters who are committed to the degree program. Particularly insightful were comments of students who appreciated faculty serving as models for teaching using experiential learning design. One student commented: “I have learned new teaching styles from extended education instructors, and I plan to use this experience to enhance my teaching skills.”

Technology used in distance education can be an artificial barrier to interpersonal communications: this phenomenon is called transactional distance. Although the majority feel interactions are satisfactory (Table 2), students tell instructors that they long for one-on-one interaction and continuous feedback about student progress from instructors. Faculty attempt to provide this high level of interaction through a variety of means, including phone calls, e-mail, bridge phone discussion groups, and response to e-mail questions. Very encouraging is the high level of support from family and other support systems. A student expressed it this way: “My family is proud of me - and I haven’t graduated yet!”

Table 2. Graduate students’ attitudes about interactions that occur in distance education.





My interactions with the instructor(s)




My interactions with other learners




My interactions with the course content




My interactions with technology for course delivery




My interactions with my family or other support systems




My interactions with my employer




My ability to balance competing roles




(5=very satisfactory; 1=very unsatisfactory)

These students report less satisfaction with balancing the competing roles of employee, spouse, parent, and community volunteer, but the fact that distance education permits them to assume most of these roles while completing a degree is important to them.

To elicit students’ comfort with distance education, we asked “Where does this program stand overall on a scale of 1 to 7, where a 7 represents the “best” possible education and 1 represents the “worst” possible education?” The mean response was 5.56 + 1.06, reflecting the students’ confidence in the quality of education regardless of the delivery technology that elicits less-than-satisfied responses from a few (7%) of the students. For more information, call (402) 472-2913 or email [email protected] or visit our site on the WWW:

More than one-third of the faculty in the college participates in teaching extended education classes, a critical mass great enough to produce significant shifts in the culture of the college. However, one factor contributing to the success of the distance education program was the emphasis on faculty development. Faculty participated in satellite video conferences on distance education, LearnShops with faculty from other institutions (through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance), participated in monthly brown bags, and generally have been supportive of one another. One unanticipated spin-off of the successful extended education teaching is that many faculty chose to adapt experiential instructional design in their on-campus classes. The conversation about instructional design and good teaching has enriched the college through the resultant emphasis on teaching and has provided an appropriate balance with discussions about research and outreach.


1Dr. Laughlin provides leadership for the Interdepartmental Human Resources and Family Sciences M.S. degree program delivered via distance education, and is a founding member of the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA).

2The program received the A*DEC Outstanding Educational Program Award, 1998.


Partial support for faculty development was obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Extension Service Agricultural Telecommunications Grants: Great Plains InterUniversity Consortium: Building capacity for distance learning, Co-Directors, B. Stowe & V. Moxley, and Establishing a network training concept for distance education, Co-Directors: D. C. Draper, J. A. Stout, & J. Laughlin. These grants funded four years of faculty development activities. In addition, J. Laughlin obtained an A*DEC grant to partially fund satellite delivery of NSD 800 Contemporary Nutrition, 07/95-12/95.


Angelo, T. A. (1997). The campus as learning community. AAHE Bulletin, 49(9), 3-6 .

Berge, Z., & Collins, M. (1995). Computer-mediated communication and the online classroom in distance learning. Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine, 2 (4). Retrieved from (Jan. 14, 1998).

Ewell, P. T. (1997). Organizing for learning. AAHE Bulletin, 50(4), 3-6.

Hooker, M. (1997). The transformation of higher education. In D. G. Oblinger and S. C. Rush (Eds.) The Learning Revolution (pp. 20-34). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

Oblinger, D. G., & Rush, S. C. (1997). The learning revolution. In D.G. Oblinger and S.C. Rush (Eds.) The Learning Revolution (pp. 2-19). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

Reeves, T. C., & Reeves, P. M. (1997). Effective dimensions of interactive learning on World Wide Web. In B. H. Khan (Ed.). Web-based Instruction (pp. 59-66). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.