The Design & Management of Effective Distance Learning Programs – Chapter 6

Chapter 6: The Challenge of Teaching Effectively from a Distance

Valerie E. Polichar and Christine Bagwell 
University of California, San Diego, USA

Copyright © 2002, Idea Group Publishing.

OVERVIEW

Distance learning has the potential to be as powerful at successful instruction as conventional classroom learning. To take advantage of this potential, planners and educators should apply known principles of perception and learning gleaned from cognitive, behavioral, educational, and perceptual psychological research. These principles include those of elaborative encoding, interactive learning, reinforcement and the spacing effect. These principles and their relationship to human learning are presented. Applications of these principles in conventional distance learning packages are discussed, including Web page development, course-in-a-box software, chat rooms, MUD/MOO environments, bulletin boards and real-time online lectures. Suggestions are provided to guide the course designer in developing effective instructional tools.

Janet, a student in a traditional classroom, is taken on a field trip as part of her studies of the history of her hometown. She goes on a walking tour of the downtown area with a guide. They stop to read plaques on important buildings, and Janet asks questions about some of the strange architecture she sees. Her guide points out aspects of the geography of the area that affected the development of the urban area; Janet looks up a street and sees the steep hill leading to an old church, and notices the smell of sea air in the still-bustling market center. After the tour, Janet is assigned a project: building a model of one of the buildings she has seen.

David is taking an online course in local history offered by his city’s community college Website. Each week he connects and reads the latest chapter of the online text. He looks at online pictures of famous local buildings. Every six weeks, he takes an online “midterm.” If he passes two midterms and a final, he will pass the class and earn credits.

Most educators would probably agree that Janet’s experience was “richer.” But while one might suspect that it was also more effective for learning and retaining information about the subject, it might not be clear precisely why this is so. In fact, it is likely that her experience would lead to longer retention and better comprehension of the subject matter. This is not, however, an inherent disadvantage of distance learning. Rather, it is a difference in pedagogical approaches. With care, an online course can be made equally effective—even if not always equally sensually engaging. (It’s hard to smell the sea through the computer screen!)

Instructors are spending increasing amounts of time and energy converting their courses into distance education. They create Web-based classes and local public broadcasting courses, and make use of packaged courseware, “drill-and-practice” software, and tools to enhance traditional face-to-face teaching environments. Students are beginning to embrace the new formats, but how certain can an instructor be that her students are truly learning the material? If she runs into one of them a year later, what will he be able to tell her about the subject matter? Will the student be able to translate and transfer what he has learned into his life, his work, his understanding of the world?

Much of the research into technology education has focused on the hurdles of attracting and keeping students’ attention, interest and participation. For example, the TLT Group’s respected Flashlight Program (1999; 2000; 2001) focuses on analysis of accessibility, technology barriers, and tracking use of educational technology installations. An article on “The effects of electronic classrooms on learning English composition” (Stinson & Claus, 2000) contains many references to aspects of the class that students “liked” or “disliked,” and focuses on faculty/course evaluations as a method of evaluating technology enhancement success or failure. In the 1990s, a successful educational product was one that kept students involved and motivated to use it for the largest number of hours and the longest stretch of weeks. The research and applications focus has been, understandably, on assessing and improving student participation.

As educational technology moves into its next decade, practitioners and planners are beginning to evaluate whether or not a product successfully teaches (see, Smith & Warren, 1999), notes Patti Harvey, a consultant quoted in Geith (1999), “Faculty start to question what is working. We are now focusing on what learning is, how we describe it, and what that means for current approaches to how we measure for learning.” Developing successful distance learning programs is going to require careful attention to, and incorporation of, successful conventional instructional methods, appropriate application of conventional and new student assessment methods (such as testing), and an organized empirical approach. In addition to all that, it will require a re-examination of what is known about perception, learning, memory, and the brain, and the incorporation of that knowledge into instructional design.

The development of educational curriculum and teaching methodology is most successful when it is informed by educational research. Educational research, in turn, is most specific and accurate when informed by psychological research—especially work in the areas of behavioral, perceptual, cognitive and educational psychology. Classroom methods tend to incorporate ad hoc methods into the mix—things that a particular instructor has found or believes to be effective. Often, these discoveries are shared in workshops and books developed for face-to-face instructors, and are subsequently analyzed in terms of their psychological effectiveness.

Such work has not, however, been applied as frequently to educational technology design. In fact, careful study of many of the educational products available for developers of distance courseware reveals influences from a wide range of non-research sources. Such sources include video games, early Internet communication technologies (that in turn drew on community communication metaphors, such as the newspaper and public bulletin boards), and old-fashioned “drill-and-practice” teaching techniques that are no longer heavily practiced in a modern, live classroom. In addition, developers of course websites and other courseware unthinkingly may convert bad or ineffective classroom practices into bad online practices, simply because they are familiar.

As much as there is still to be learned about the human mind and human learning, what is known provides powerful suggestions about effective teaching. With the rapid growth of distance learning, it’s timely to look at some of the most important psychological principles of learning and see how they might be exploited to create the most effective possible distance learning environment.

ELABORATIVE ENCODING

The most basic element of learning is probably the storage of information in long-term memory. From research in cognitive psychology, it is known that elaborative encoding—using information to be remembered in a creatively constructed, meaningful way—vastly increases memory for that information at a later time. The more meaningful the construction, the greater is the likelihood of retention over the longest period of time (Bradshaw & Anderson, 1982).

Most computer-based instruction programs make some attempt to incorporate elaborative encoding into their structure. Some are more successful than others (and some are successful purely by accident). In many interactive self-paced training and instructional programs, students are encouraged to attempt to “fill-in-the-blank” to provide the missing term in a sentence. This technique is especially popular in some of the early multimedia-rich training CD-ROMs—an intermediate step between the traditional classroom and online instruction. In many of these, the student either is asked to “guess” what might be coming next in the lecture (that is, the needed information cannot be derived from the preceding text), or to regurgitate something, in a prescribed form, that has recently been presented. This is not the most effective elaboration; it is fairly shallow processing and may not lead to lasting memory.

Yet this type of exercise is still very popular in corporate and professional computer-based training. It is even found in academic environments, especially in the context of staff development training.

“Course-in-a-box” software packages provide a simple way for faculty or teaching assistants to construct a course website without programming knowledge. These applications can be used from anywhere on the Internet, rather than past modes of needing software in a particular lab or relying on CD-ROM-based instructional aids. Tools such as a bulletin board or chat room can be added with a “point and click.” Other commonly included tools are password protection, grade posting, image databases, and glossary tools. Administrative departments such as health and safety are often anxious to leverage such institutional instructional technology investments to reduce personnel costs for training. Rather than using the packages in a meaningful way, however, they convert old “fill-in-the-blank” quizzes to an online format, and remove some of the valuable aspects of classroom instruction (such as interaction with instructors) without looking for online replacements.

But many “course-in-a-box” applications, such as WebCT, offer an excellent opportunity for elaborative encoding: they have the capability to permit the student to develop his or her own Web page. If the student creates a website to present to others some aspect of the material that she has studied, learning can be enhanced. The process of reorganizing information in order to teach others is intensely elaborative.

This facility is extremely valuable—more so than less structured offerings such as chat rooms. Conventional classroom teachers have realized for years that creative constructions using course material are incredibly effective. Like a book report, a science fair project, and the seminar-style class (typical of graduate studies, where each student in turn presents new material to his fellow students), the creation of a website gives the student an opportunity to meaningfully encode the material he has been taught.

At Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, Jim Phillips takes the elaborative online assignment one step further. He asks students in his instructional design courses to develop full-blown online tutorials that instruct others on a topic they are studying. This causes the students not only to use learned material in an elaborative way, but to examine in depth their logic and grasp of the subject by asking and anticipating questions from their own audience (J. Phillips, personal interview with C. Bagwell, 2000).

MUD/MOO text-based virtual environments are becoming increasingly popular in educational applications. MUDs are modeled after 1970s text- based computer adventure games such as Adventure and Zork. They place the user in a virtual world, where he can navigate from room-to-room and interact with objects found there using plain English-style commands. MUDs, however, provide access to multiple users at the same time, and permit users to interact with each other in the virtual environment (for example, users in the same virtual “pub” may chat, order beers for each other, and look around at an identical text-based scene). MUDs also have features that, more than simple chat rooms, allow the creative educator to develop ideal environments for elaborative encoding. There are several aspects of MUDs/MOOs that enable elaboration:

  • context–rich conversational environments

  • the ability to develop relevant yet appealing educational “adventures” or “quests,” where students must use both their knowledge of the subject matter and their reasoning and problem-solving skills to work their way through a process. (MUD “quests” resemble interactive experience- based problem-solving/teaching games such as the Learning Company’s Carmen Sandiego (2001).)

  • “‘Bots” (programs that interact with students as if they were simply another participant). These can be programmed to converse with the student on the topic of interest, to provide feedback and reinforcement for discussion of relevant subject matter, and to offer hints, more advanced information, and explanations in response to creatively phrased questions from the student.

Mike O’Brien of the Aerospace Corporation used MUD technology to create an Egyptology quest, known as TinyLondon. The quest provides participants with an exciting and mentally challenging text-based adventure game—and, in the process, teaches them several aspects of the Middle Egyptian language.

The adventurer wanders through the Nile Valley, collecting scraps of parchment ostensibly written by Herodotus, the Greek historian. For example, you see a bit of vellum on the ground and look at it:

look vellum 
"For whatever reason, these Ancients appeared never to 
vary their verbs, as we do, so that commands and statements 
sounded alike in their ears, and past, present and future 
were but ill-distinguished. Thus, J3I, to cross a stream 
or river, has no other forms or conjugation."

Later, you sit at the bank of the Nile, which you’d like to cross. You see a boat:

look boat
 
There is a boat here, with no one in it. It is made out 
of woven papyrus reeds, and bobs gently against the bank 
of the river.
Get into boat
You climb into a rickety-looking, shaky boat made out of 
papyrus reeds.
In a Boat(#9538R)
 
The boat is sound, though seemingly fragile. It does not 
move, but you sense that it could take you where you wish 
if you expressed yourself properly.

You might try a few English commands with no effect: cross

Huh? (Type "help" for help.)
Go across
* You can’t go that way.
 
Take me across 
* I don’t see that here.

Finally, you remember that scrap of vellum you read about Middle Egyptian verbs, and its casual reference to crossing streams. You say:

J3I
 
The boat hears your command, and you are whisked quickly 
and silently across the breadth of the Nile.

(M. O’Brien, personal interview with V. Polichar, September, 1999).

A great deal of potential exists in the use of MUDs/MOOs for education. One early adopter of this technology is Reed Riner, a professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University (NAU) who for many years in the early 1990s taught a class in futures anthropology using a MUD (Riner & Clodius, 1995). Remote participants included not only the students at NAU, but also sister classes at the University of Dayton (under John Bregenzer) and other schools and advisors scattered around the U.S. and Canada.

ONLINE INTERACTIVE DISCUSSION

Work by Frase and Schwartz (1975) indicates that having students work together, taking turns asking and answering questions about course material, improves subsequent test performance. A bulletin or discussion board offers an excellent structured environment for such discourse, and can be an effective learning tool for online courses. As opposed to a chat room or a MUD/MOO, a discussion board offers students an asynchronous forum for communication. A discussion board gives students as much time as needed to formulate their thoughts and questions. It forgives slow typing, and provides a forum for the shy and for those less adept with English. (The inherent time delay between question and answer in this environment may also be beneficial, if students go on studying other material in the interim; this useful effect will be discussed later in the chapter.)

Chat rooms are a popular enhancement to online courses, but have the potential to be a dead end for learning. Students may chat about anything and everything—and not necessarily course material. (At the authors’ home university, chat rooms have become known as “Hey, babe!” rooms.) Worse, chat rooms may lead to both elaboration and reinforcement of mistakes and incorrect understandings of course material.

For faculty who want students to interact, but who want control over where the discussion leads, discussion board systems (such as DISCUS, WebBoard or facilities in Blackboard’s CourseInfo or WebCT) are preferable. Message-queuing features offer moderators the option to post or reject messages, so that faculty or TAs can ensure that messages are on target, concepts are being explained accurately, and facts being shared are correct. The interactive quality of these systems makes them nearly as appealing to students as chat rooms, but usually more pedagogically appropriate. (Alternatively, in a MUD or MOO environment, TAs, faculty, or even “Bots” can remain present in real-time to guide the discussion or answer questions.)

Chat rooms can be useful if tightly controlled. Teaching assistants at the University of California-San Diego, use them to provide virtual office hours prior to exams. A 9–11 p.m. on-campus study session is often impractical for working and married students. However, offered online, virtual office hours provide students with an opportunity to have critical questions answered in the comfort of their own homes.

Some programs, such as WebCT, allow for review of the chat room logs. Care must be taken, however, not to violate local privacy policies, especially in the university environment. It may also foster an atmosphere of distrust that could lead to decreased use of the environment. Finally, when an instructor corrects a student’s misconception based on a log, the correction is received long after the concept has been voiced, and encoded, by the student. It is entirely likely that the misunderstanding will be what is remembered, unless the instructor requires an elaborative task to be performed along with the receipt of the correction.

Other skills are learned in the educational process besides the specific topic at hand. Carol B. MacKnight points out that students “need coaching and practice in how to carry on online discussions. Initially, faculty must step in and support disciplined discussions… in monitoring discussions or group work activity, faculty must engage in a line of questioning that will continue to drive an idea, thus helping students develop and apply critical thinking skills.” These “critical skills” are important for elaborative encoding, and hence for learning (MacKnight, 2000). Theodore Groves, of the University of California-San Diego, would agree. He found it initially challenging to accept student questions via electronic mail without returning the exact answer immediately. Ideally, in a face-to-face office hours situation, an instructor would not simply give out an answer but instead guide students into arriving at solutions themselves by giving hints, supplying leading information and asking the students questions. It takes extra attention to apply this technique in an asynchronous medium, be it electronic mail or a bulletin board, but it is necessary to take full advantage of the value introduced by the technology (T. Groves, personal conversation with C. Bagwell, 2000; Knowlton, Knowlton & Davis, 2000). Effective use of teaching technology will help the student “go beyond being exposed to content to the point of critically interacting with it” (MacKnight, 2000).

REINFORCEMENT

Reinforcers help to increase the likelihood that a given behavior will happen again (Thorndike, 1898). More colloquially, rewarding a person’s action makes the person likely to repeat that action. Many educational software developers have incorporated this notion into their programs. For example, in an addition drill program for children, successful completion of the presented math problem might result in a song being played.

There are several challenges in using reinforcement to enhance learning, but one of the most compelling is that it is not always effective. The very first question you must ask when seeking to incorporate reinforcement into your courseware is what is a reinforcer for my audience? (A secondary, but also important question, is what is a punisher for my audience?) Only with this information can you create courseware that does not skirt its intended purpose, or, worse, frustrate the user to the point where they cease to use it.

For many students, especially children and young adults, simply working with a computer is a reinforcer. Doing anything on a computer may be more appealing than participating in class activities, sitting in a large crowd, or even driving to campus. In fact, the experience of searching for a parking place on a crowded college campus may act as a punishment for driving to school! This effect will drive many students to choose a distance learning option, whether or not it is effective, and whether or not they use the courseware in the manner the instructor intended.

It’s important for course designers to be aware of this inherent reinforcement effect for two reasons. First, developers must be certain that any reinforcer in the program is both dependent upon desired behavior, and more powerful than the other pleasures of interacting with the machine or program, or it will not increase learning. This is true whether the reinforcer is one they have deliberately inserted, or one that unexpectedly emerges during testing.

Sharon Polichar, a San Diego elementary-level English as a Second Language (ESL) educator, has used Davidson & Associates’ Falling Fruit software to help her students learn punctuation. An unpunctuated sentence appears on the screen; students are asked to position a colorful toucan under the piece of falling fruit that contains the appropriate punctuation mark. If the punctuation is correct, the toucan gets to eat the fruit. If it is incorrect, the fruit explodes onto the toucan’s head.

Polichar found that, instead of attempting to select the right answer, students were moving the toucan at random. The sight of the toucan getting whacked on the head with exploding fruit was much more entertaining than the sight of him eating! The most powerful reinforcer in the program was one the designers had clearly intended as a punisher. The planned reinforcer had little or no effect (S. Polichar, personal conversation with V. Polichar, 2000).

In addition to ensuring that reinforcement is appropriately affecting behavior, it’s important to remember that simply getting to use a computer for a class is not a reinforcer for all students. It is critical for computer-based instruction to be compelling, or some students will cease to participate.

One generally effective reinforcer for self-paced online or disk-based courses is the inclusion of frequent, short quizzes with the score displayed prominently (along with a message such as, “Congratulations, you scored 82%! You have passed this chapter!”). The frequency and brevity help ensure that the student will succeed; their placement at the end of a section of study ensures that the student has worked through the chapter. These quizzes should not be confused with actual tests that measure learning. Most students will complete the test using short- and medium-term memory. However, the process of taking the quiz may assist in elaborative encoding, and the notice of passing the quiz provides reinforcement to study and to elaborative work. Moreover, Graham (1999) has found that administering pop quizzes significantly enhanced scores on subsequent exams and increased student motivation to study.

Many courseware programs offer quizzes. In most cases, however, they can be taken at any time, whether or not a chapter has just been completed, and taking the quizzes is not inherently part of completing a chapter. This decoupling somewhat lessens the positive effect that might otherwise be obtained. In the worst cases, as in some web-based “driver education” classes that are offered for U.S. drivers who have received speeding tickets, students have the ability to complete all the quizzes without even clicking through the pages containing the training information.

Reinforcement in the computer-based segment of a course can enhance the face-to-face segment as well. David Perlmutter at the University of California-San Diego uses spaced quizzes to encourage in-class participation and attendance, and to compel students to keep up with the reading. He requires students in his “Sign Language and Culture” courses to take a weekly online pass/fail quiz. He decided to add this online supplement because of a copying delay. On the day of a scheduled midterm, the exam was not ready to be distributed. When he announced his intention to give a lecture in place of the exam, half the class got up and left the room. By ambitiously and successfully implementing the online weekly quizzes, which are graded automatically, he has effectively provided motivation for lecture attendance. The automated nature of this tool permits him to provide this motivation for over 250 students (D. Perlmutter, personal conversation with C. Bagwell, 1999).

Reinforcers can be powerful learning tools when training any skill, such as playing basketball, knitting, or soldering. The principles of operant conditioning teach us that progressively reinforcing closer and closer approximations to a desired physical task, or “shaping,” will effectively train a subject to perform a task with great accuracy.

It’s less clear how reinforcement is useful in learning conceptual materials, such as understanding the political motivations behind a historical event. While one can reinforce correct answers to test questions, this has the effect of improving test scores. It is not necessarily clear that it will improve understanding.

However, reinforcers can be extremely useful in keeping students on task, especially reluctant ones. Faculty who anticipate difficulty in getting students involved in online participation can circumvent the problem by offering incentives to students who post and respond to questions. Incentives might include class participation grade points or public “Good job!” messages. Stanley Chodorow, at the University of California-San Diego, assigns his Humanities students points based on their participation on the class message board (S. Chodorow, personal conversation with C. Bagwell, 2000).

THE “SPACING EFFECT”

A final important psychological principle is the spacing effect. When an item to be committed to memory is studied for a while, put away for a longer period (which can be weeks or even months), and then taken out and restudied, later recall for the item is more effective than if the same total study time is spent in one session (Reder & Anderson, 1982; Greene, 1989). Self-paced learning naturally exploits this phenomenon, but it can be enhanced by careful course structure.

Interspersing topics is a useful technique. It creates natural breaks between periods of study of a given topic; also, it has been found that information retrieval is strengthened when information to be learned is related to information already stored (Singh et al., 1994). Deft interrelating of different topics, as well as course segments that build on segments that come before, can enhance this effect.

Increasing specialization of training has made it tempting to create single-subject or sub-subject course segments that can “stand alone.” The practical value of such a segmented course to the student is partially offset by the fact that topics are no longer interrelated or built on each other. To take advantage of the Singh effect, courses need not be entirely incremental. Students can be asked to apply knowledge and techniques learned in one segment as they approach a second topic. Alternatively, the students themselves may be asked to create the relationship in their creative efforts (e.g., “Develop a Web page that shows how you might apply these principles of long-term memory storage to what you learned in the last chapter about visual perception”).

Finally, self-paced may not be the best pace. It’s possible to avoid this problem by scheduling some real-time events (such as an online guest speaker in the MUD/MOO or chat room, or an upcoming television documentary to be watched when it airs) and activities (such as a creative project, a trip to a local museum, or an exploration of a community resource) into a course. Introduction of time structure into a distance course has two positive effects.

First, it helps keep the student working at a realistic pace. “Cramming” is notoriously ineffective at true instruction (Fulkerson & Martin, 1981; Brethrower, 1982), and a self-paced class makes this practice more likely if some structure is not also present. Secondly, it creates an opportunity to take advantage of the spacing effect to improve overall learning.

NEW AREAS FOR RESEARCH

The isolation effect, generally attributed to von Restorff (1933), demonstrates that memory for a unique type of item in a list of otherwise similar items will be enhanced. This discovery has spawned a great deal of research into the possible mechanisms for this enhancing effect, but the effect itself is potentially useful in instructional design.

More research is needed in this area, but the possible applications are interesting. For example, one way of making sure students get the critical point of a discussion might be to embed it in a presentation of a different type of information. If the date of one particular Civil War battle is critical to understanding a political decision process, a list of locations of Civil War battles might be presented, with a date appearing by only one. A discussion of export products of Australia might include a note about the geology of the country, since that country’s unique geology is a driver of many of these products. Even if the student can’t remember the list of battles or the list of products, they might recall that a critical battle took place before a particular presidential decision, or might be able to reconstruct the exports by remembering the great mineral resources of an ancient, flat continent.

It is well known that short-term memory can only hold 7±2 “chunks” of information at one time, and information must remain in short-term memory long enough to be encoded if it is to be transferred to long-term memory. Given this, dense, information-packed hour-plus lectures make it difficult for most students to absorb much of the material at the time of presentation. The typical college student takes copious notes, doesn’t try to digest any of the material at the time of presentation, and depends on later processing and interpretation—but often notes are not sufficient for complete understanding. Older-style distance learning, where students watched lectures on television in series, compounded the problem, as it was not possible to ask the instructor even to pause for a question. New technology can help avert this problem for distance learners.

Streamed audio and video presentations are becoming very popular as information delivery methods. Stanley Chodorow used to bring in slide carousels for his traditional-classroom lower division Humanities courses.

Now, using Real Presenter, Microsoft PowerPoint and a Real streaming server, he records his voice coordinated with the slideshow, creating an online presentation. In addition to making these presentations available to students for on-demand and multiple viewings, this method permits Chodorow to break up his lectures into five- to ten-minute segments. Such a segment is much more digestible to students than an hour-long lecture, permitting information to remain in their short-term memory long enough to be encoded and stored. Studying in segments of this sort also permits students to take advantage of the spacing effect. And students like the new format. Though the presentations are not interactive, a surprising side effect was that many students felt they were, in the sense that it felt as if the professor was speaking directly to the individual student (S. Chodorow, personal interview with C. Bagwell, 2000).

Finally, a new effort in research should be directed at measuring, as much as possible in the real online instructional environment, the real effects on learning and memory of the above-mentioned techniques. Without this validation, extrapolation from psychological findings will quickly fall into the same “pop psychology” realm that drives so much traditional classroom development. The first step is to make the link between psychological research and effective learning. The second is to find ways to realize these connections to make distance learning more effective. The third is to evaluate the effectiveness of implementations and to make appropriate changes. As more continues to be discovered about the brain and how humans learn, distance learning can be refined to be as effective as—perhaps even more effective than—traditional classroom instruction.

Claire is a student in a new distance learning class on local history. Each week, she spends some time interacting with her fellow students in an online MUD that represents her hometown as it was 100 years ago. Her special assignment for the semester is to work with her fellow students to develop a method of delivering water to new residents, whose homes are progressively further away from the river. To improve her ability to negotiate online with other students responsible for the metal works, labor animals, land rights and other relevant areas, she is given suggestions on places to visit in real life. She stops by the town waterworks and talks to the foreman, who has been there for many years. At the library, she finds photographs and plans of the first municipal sewer system. Online at the town’s utilities company Web page, she watches an animation of city water delivery and learns about capacities and costs of the system.

In addition to her personal project, Claire is learning about local political, architectural, economical and agricultural history. She watches streaming video and public broadcasting specials. She reads short texts and responds to questions at the end of them, receiving instant feedback to confirm that her understanding is correct. She connects to an online chat room during office hours and talks to her instructor. She takes part in group discussions on the MUD, takes exams online, and even submits her final “paper”—a multimedia presentation analyzing her successes and failures in the virtual MUD environment—via electronic mail.

A year in the future, who do you think will be able to answer your questions about their own town’s history, David, Janet or Claire?

Strategic application of what is known about how humans learn to the distance learning environment can produce instruction that is as effective as, or even more effective than, traditional classroom teaching. Encouragement of student processes that cause elaborative encoding to occur, careful use of reinforcers and targeted interrelation of topics and time intervals to take advantage of the spacing effect, combined with appropriate use of interactive online discussion, will add power to courseware. Further research will help identify additional psychological factors that can be used to strengthen distance learning, and will help establish these effects empirically.

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