The Merits/Defects of Distance Education
for Curriculum, Teachers, and Students:
Yi-wen Chen
        With the advance in technology and the rapid growth of the Internet in recent years, distance learning has moved rapidly in to the mainstream educational system. Hence, the paper will discuss the difference between distance education and traditional, face to face, teaching and the great effects on the curriculum, teachers, and students. Each subtopic will describe substantiation for traditional education. Finally, the paper describes the problems of present and future in distance education.


        Advanced technologies, like the Internet, affect many things, including education. Using new technology like computers, networks, and satellites in the distance-learning environment changes the style of learning because students study beyond the visible limitation of school walls. Compared with traditional face to face (F2F), distance teaching has many advantages that face-to-face teaching has difficulty surpassing.  According to Lefoe & Corderoy (1998) said,” Increased usage is evidenced in studies such us by Fyvie (1997) who identify 51 institutions (41 from US, 4 from Australian and 2 from UK) which offered either undergraduate or post graduate online courses.” We can predict that there will be many school and courses using long distance teaching to deliver knowledge (Onken & Eastwood, 1998). Although distance teaching has many benefits and become popular, it still has many problems. In this article, I am going to discuss the merits and defects of distance teaching in the areas of curriculum, teachers teaching, and students learning.

The influence for Curriculum design

        Like traditional teaching, the most distinguish feature of distance teaching is to conquer the barrier of space, and then to convey courses to any place and connect different people in different place (Findley & Findley, 1997; Laney; 1996; Gross, 1995). Distance teaching also can help students and teachers to share educational resources, and let the world become a global school. Hence, by this feature, the distance teaching system deeply has a number of positive on curriculum. First, it can use tools like the Internet to deliver courses to anyone in the world and to link to other web sites to add teaching resources. For example, in geography class, you might not be able to go explore a volcano in person, but instructors can use technology to bring you to a volcano web site to observe the real situation and let scientists explain and answer for students.
Second, distance teaching can invite many specialists from a distance to teach and discuss synchronously (Findley & Findley, 1997). For example, teachers can invite a person who is relative with the class materials to discuss with students.
Third, it also can integrate courses to teach like combining animation, sounds, and picture. Not only does it enhance the context of lecture, but also intrigue the study motive of students. Forth, it offers special courses whose instructors are lack or are far to us (Findley & Findley, 1997). Teachers and students don't need to travel long distance. For example, like learning different languages, you don't  need to go abroad to study.

        But the distance teaching still has some problems for curriculum needing to be solved. First, some special situations are not suitable to use distance teaching to teach. For instance, science courses requiring students do experiment are not suitable for the distance learning. Of course, instructors can do before cameras, but as Greenbowe & Burke (1995) noted, "Students taking sciences via distance education may be deprived of these critical educational experiences. Other courses, like music, sports (physical education) have the same limitation on distance teaching. There is also a problem like above. When students discuss and deliver assignment after distance teaching, it is a little difficult for mathematics assignment because it is hard for students to use most e-mail systems to write the special mathematics signs (Jackman & Carter, 1998).
Second, the programs of distance teaching need distance instructors to spend much more time to design distance course then face to face (Findley & Findley, 1997; Laney, 1996; Greenbowe & Burke, 1995). Otherwise, the distance teachings might become straight lecture. It also will reduce the feedback and interactivity between teachers and students.
Third, the problem of copyright, "Some materials that can be used in a traditional classroom may not be permitted in a distance -learning setting"  Martin & Taylor pointed out (1997).
        Distance learning environment is more powerful than the traditional teaching and more effective when the curriculum is designed well but it is different than traditional teaching for teachers and students. Teachers should research how to use technology of potential to develop curriculum for students in order to attain the original teaching goals

The influence on teachers

        Using online distance teaching, it is different teaching style for teachers who are familiar with traditional face-to-face teaching. Therefore, this new style of teaching will form some influence to teachers teaching in online teaching. First, it saves time and has a flexible time schedule for teachers (Mclsaac & Ralston, 1995). Second, teachers can teach many students who live in different places. By this system, teachers also can consult the experts for expertise from far places (Findley & Findley, 1997). They do not need to dress up or travel long distance.
        But, there are some problems on online teaching for teachers. First, the copyright for distance teachers is a problem. “What arrangements have been made to protect faculty creative rights?” There are two questions for this reason: “1.Can lecture tapes be used again? 2.If recorded lectures are used for more than one semester, how will faculty workload be counted?” Martin & Taylor said (1997).
        Next, if students who are not full time students have different background, it is difficult for students asked the same as background before taking a course. Hence, teachers will feel it difficult to help each student (Cheung & Yiu, 1998).
Third, distance educators said the distance-teaching teachers should change the teaching methods used in face-to-face traditional teaching (Wolcoot, 1995). They should avoid using the materials and experiences used in traditional classrooms to teach students in distance teaching, the distance teaching might fail. So, distance-teaching teachers should accumulate, research, and develop the strategies of teaching in distance in order to teach effectively.
Although to being familiar with using technology on teaching is not easy for teachers, it is a trend to use technology on next generation education. Teachers should prepare the knowledge about using technology soon.

The influence on students

        "Save time", most students said (Mclsaac & Ralston, 1995) it could let students do and study the courses flexibly. Students can download various lesson materials and review them on their own time. In online teaching, students can review the instruction record many times even if they are absent (Lee, Murphy, Chan, & Chung, 1997). And they also can sand messages stored until others can see them and discuss in front of their screen.
        According to Sullivan (1998), both male and female teachers usually pay more attention on male students in f2f teaching. And when people talk each other, they will be according to some factors, like gender, closes, and so on. But in distance teaching, this situation will be improved. The students just have name and e-mail address for teachers and the distance-teaching environment increases the frequency of students’ participation and discussion. These are helpful for the female students. “… are more likely and more willing to open up than in face-to face situations”, Sullivan (1998) said.
        There is no limitation on the capacity of students. On traditional classroom, it may be crowed if many students study at the same class. Through distance teaching, an instructor can teach more than on a classroom. Hence, it can reduce the average cost of each person of education. It will be helpful for the poor countries.
         It is helpful to create a lifelong educational environment for graduated students like adult continuing education and other learners individual (Cheung & Yiu, 1998). In the next decade, the lifelong learning will be one of important educational issues. It offers an opportunity to reach the students who are too far from school, too busy or too poor to return school to study.
It combines different classes students who are not in the same place to discuss and help them learn better (Findley & Findley, 1997, Laney, 1996). They can share different information in real time. For example, they can discuss the effect of altitude on the pressure if they live in different places like one from the plains and one in the mountain. They will learn not only from instructors. Due to the communication of words, it will also help the literature ability, like grammar, of the students. Because of communicating with other country people, students will use clear and correct sentences to exchange their ideas.
        Although there are many advantages for students from distance teaching, there also are some problems needing to be solved. First, some students said they do not like new technology. Not all students like to learn in front of screens. Some students think technology is too cold. It will not make a warm sense like the face-to-face teaching. Second, it also lets students feel they are studying alone and do not belong to the bigger group (Wolcoot, 1995). In this method, students cannot talk and see others in the same classroom like the traditional style.

The influence between teachers and students

        In the educational environment of distance teaching, it will change the traditional relationship between teachers and students (Barker & Dickson, 1996). "It 's encouraging an egalitarian mentor-apprentice relationship", Shimabukuro (1998) pointed out.
        The feedback is limited because teachers and students cannot see each other. It is not the same as the traditional classrooms where the teachers can get the feedback instantly from the reflection of students like asking questions. For example, in online teaching, students just look at the screen, so the instructors do not have the connection of nonverbal with students like eye contact. Students may not regard teachers as a "real"person. (Martin & Taylor, 1997). Hence, the feedback is quite different and difficult to do like traditional teaching. The change of conveying message results in the loss of information like lack the nonverbal communication, eye contact, facial expression, and body language. More, this situation may result the misinterpreted between teachers and students.
        However, the interactivity is the key point of distance teaching (Chen, 1997; Findley & Findley, 1997). When students can participate more, then they can study more and better. Depending upon the courses, the teachers should choose what kind of interaction is needed, like two-ways, multi-ways, in order to keep teaching the most effectively. The method needs skills. Teachers had better accept some training programs, and then know to keep the interaction most
Although schools can deliver the education through new technology, this trend doesn’t mean that the campus will be replaced. After all, human beings are sociable. We still need a traditional campus in order to form a small society for students because of sociological, psychological, and educational reasons.

The influence of hardware for distance teaching

        Although technology is advanced, it still has some defects. For example, some teachers and students feel that technology is not fun and convenient for them (Findley & Findley, 1997, Rowntree 1995). Computers are still expensive for some families although they are cheaper every year (Shimabukuro, 1998). It is easy to be effected by other factors like weather affects the satellites when the distance education conveyed by those. (Findley & Findley, 1997). It cannot deliver courses absolutely (Martin & Taylor, 1997). Although so, technology will progress gradually, and it will enable the distance teaching to be more convenient and friendly.


        Now, the distance teaching not only grows fast and attracts much attention but also becomes a trend and will play an important role on education on the 21st (Garrison & Onken, 1998, Gross, 1995). All educators and students are involved in this educational reform. It changes not only the instructional materials and the relationship between teachers and students, but also the learning style of all people living in the global society. We should think and ask ourselves what and how much we can do with the online distance teaching. In the information age, people should know how to use technology to learn new information and skills. In the future, information should be easily moved from place to place. Hence campus is no longer the traditional campus.
        Although the online teaching is still not perfect in some situations, the progress of technology will be accepted and improved because its benefits are more than the cost. We should prepare and develop policies like copyright, censorship, teaching and learning modules, and relationship between instructors and learners as soon as possible in order to be sure that this educational tool will be suitable for the next century in education.


        Barker, B. O., & Dickson, M. W. (1996). Distance learning technologies in k-12 schools past, present, and future practice, Techtrends, 19-22

        Cheung, B., & Yiu, S. M. (1998). WWW technologies and adult continuing education. On-line:

        Findley, B., & Findley, D. (1997). Strategies for effective distance education, Contemporary Education, 68, 118-120

        Rowntree, D. (1995). Teaching and learning online: a correspondence education for 21st century?. British Journal of Educational Technology, 26, 205-215

        Lefoe, G. & Corderoy, R. M. (1998). ”Tips for effective online teaching and learning”. On-line:

        Laney, J. D. (1996). Going the distance: Effective instruction using distance learning technology. Educational Technology, 51-53.

        Shimabukuro, J. (1998). Keynote why teach online?. On-line:

        Wolcoot, L. L. (1995). The distance teacher as reflective practitioner. Educational Technology, 39-43.

        Chen, L. (1997). Distance delivery systems in terms of pedagogical considerations: A Reevaluation. Educational Technology, 34-37

        Mclsaac, M. S., & Ralston, K. D. (1995). Teaching at a distance using computer conferencing, Techtrends, 41 (6), 48-53

        Onken, M., & Eastwood, K. (1998). Is it possible to use distance learning tp affect change in attitudes?. On-line:

        Martin, M., & Taylor, S. A. (1997) The virtual classroom: The next steps, Educational Technology, 51-55.

Sullivan, P. (1998). Gender issues and the on-line classroom. On-line:

        Gross, R. (1995) Defending: The new mandate for distance learning in the 21st Century, Community College Journal, 28-p33

        Garrison, S., & Onken, M. H. (1998). Practical lessons on delivery of distance learn: Do’s and don’t. On-line:

        Jackman, S. & Carter, C. (1998) From the classroom to the Internet: Issues and resolutions. On-line:

        Greenbowe, T. J., & Burke, K. (1995). Distance education and curriculum change in introductory chemistry courses in Iowa, Techtrends, 23-25

        Lee, V., Murphy, D., Chan, C. C. & Chung, L. (1997) Computer-aided distance learning: a case study, Open Learning, 58-61

Top  Home