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Distance Education, Blended Education and Face to Face.

What’s the
difference in a K-12 school system?

Chapter goal
The purpose of this chapter is to provide guidance to K-12 teachers, as to the suitability of different
types of e-learning for their students.
Chapter objectives
After reading and reviewing this chapter, you will be able to
1. Describe the spectrum of e-learning instruction.
2. Explain the application of differing e-learning instruction.
3. Discuss issues relating to the implementation of e-learning initiatives.
4. Identify ways to enhance instruction through e-learning.
5. Describe potential learner characteristics that predict online success.
During my career, I have been privileged to witness the evolution of correspondence school to distance
education to virtual classrooms. While you may assume this took a great deal of time, in Saskatchewan
K-12 schools, this has taken place in only 20 years. Provincial correspondence and distance education
(DE) schools closed their doors in 2009. This left local school divisions to develop their own virtual
schools. Development of these schools has been sporadic, but created opportunities for teachers to
design and implement programs at the local level. Many teachers have gained insight working in both
regular and virtual high schools. E-learning technologies have gradually gained acceptance in the
classroom. This opportunity has given insight to many of us as to the potential of e-learning in the
classroom. Classroom teachers can now leverage e-learning strategies along with their own classroom
repertoire. Multiple strategies and individualized instruction have become accessible.
Evolution of E-Learning Programs
E-learning can take place in a traditional classroom or allow students to attend classes from home or
other locations. The face-to-face classroom has been seen as the "gold standard" of instruction. Since
the late 19th century, little has changed in the makeup of the classroom. Most large-scale initiatives
attempting to change the classroom have been top-down driven and lacked general acceptance by
teachers. Change within the classroom has been primarily teacher driven using hybrid pedagogies. Over
time, substantial changes have been made to the face-to-face environment. Acceptance of multimedia
instruction in the 1980s, the Internet in the 1990s, and more recently social media, has set the stage for
broader instructional change in today's K-12 educational institutions. With the strengthening of Internet
technologies and the ability to interact with others on the Internet, collaborative instruction has taken
hold. Teachers are now beginning to recognize the strength of collaboration using online tools.
Classroom boundaries are becoming blurred, and blended classrooms have taken root.
A variety of reasons exist why school divisions are motivated to make distance education available to
their students. Research identifies two major themes. They include providing courses not otherwise
available and providing opportunities for students to recover class credits. Credit recovery seems most
important for urban schools; 81% of urban schools high schools indicate this being the most important
reason (Queen, B., & Lewis, L., 2011). Students and parents also want online instruction to avoid going
to a traditional brick-and-mortar school. This can occur for a variety of reasons. Reasons include: a
desire of parents to home school; students having severe medical issues; a fear of violence; or, issues
with school bullying. Little research has been done into the characteristics of high school students who
attend virtual schools, or the predictability of these characteristics for online success. “The majority of
parents, teachers, administrators, and students believed that the distance education program is best
suited for a particular type of student. Successful distance education students are more motivated and
tend to work harder” (Johnson, 2010). Caution must be taken when generalizing research to the high
school setting. Post secondary institutions have significant differences when compared to the average
high school. Age and maturity level seem to play a role in students’ intrinsic motivation and goal
commitment. Even within these institutions, online education works best with mature graduate
students. As well, post secondary institutions are usually streamed from the general population to
create a homogeneous academic population. High schools have student populations which are more
diverse and heterogeneous reflecting the overall population. (Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland, 2005).
Significant research has not been carried out on the age appropriateness of online instruction. Little or
no research has been done at the elementary level.

Types of E-Learning Programs

E-learning in North America can take many forms. Rarely are programs purely online or face-to-face. At
one extreme we find individualized, student centered, asynchronous education while at the other is the
classic teacher centered classroom. The proliferation of Internet resources has created a mix of several
forms of education. Research shows strengths and weaknesses for each particular approach. Distance
education research shows slightly higher achievement than face-to-face instruction but dropout levels
are quite high. Face-to-face instruction, while more effectively engaging students, tends to be a “one
size fits all” approach. Teachers and researchers, in their attempt to leverage the benefits of both types
of education, have created blended programs. Educators hope to individualize and capitalizing on the
higher achievement of online distance education, while engaging students in a classroom community.
Distance Education (DE)
There are two primary models for online education in North America. Asynchronous online education
refers to an individualized packaged program where little interaction occurs with other students or
teachers. Early online education programs were primarily asynchronous. This trend can still be found in
professional development, where training modules can be completed by employees when time permits.
These programs are self-paced, in which a student or employee can move at his or her own rate.
Assessment of this type of program tends to be content-based multiple-choice exams completed online
and use automated marketing systems. Synchronous online education takes place over a semester or
academic term.
Most virtual classrooms incorporate synchronous online education. Typically a small group of students
will move through the course material at a set pace under the supervision of an online advisor using web
conferencing software. Most educational institutions employ the use of virtual classrooms. Regular
online meeting times are set by an instructor and assignments and feedback are given at regular
intervals. This helps to build online learning communities. It also gives a human aspect to online learning
that has been found lacking in asynchronous education. Learning communities are sometimes used to
extend teaching and learning beyond the course content to collaborative and transformative models.
Assessments are sometimes given at a testing center before an external adjudicator or online at a set
date and time.

Blended Education
Blended online education refers to a mix of online education with teacher instruction. Schools have
attempted to leverage the increased achievement of online programs with the accountability of face-to-
face programming. School divisions are trying to share online resources in a time of economic restraint.
Three forms of blended education have come to the forefront.
Teacher moderated online classes are primarily instructed from a separate central location. Local
teachers assist students with their work. This can be used in schools where the instructional staff may
lack the expertise in a subject area. Since the 1990s, many school divisions in Saskatchewan offer
calculus through this form of education. While teacher facilitated online courses can be offered
asynchronously or synchronously, typically, courses are offered following an academic synchronous
Teacher facilitated online classes leave the teacher as the primary source of information. Online
instruction supplements face-to-face teacher instruction. In this way, several sources can be used to
address the needs of diverse student groups.
In a flipped classroom, students learn at home independently and do "homework" with the teacher and
peers at school. Online instructional resources, such as Khan Academy, allow students to learn
independently and problem solve collaboratively. This newer form of e-learning allows for individualize
instruction. With the increased access of the Internet in households, this method has gained popularity
in recent years. Teachers using this technique have specialized ability and instruct material directly. This
method allows students to review material at their own pace and from multiple sources.

Face-to-face Education
Face-to-face teaching continues in most Saskatchewan high schools. In a regular classroom, teachers will
sometimes use resources developed for online courses. This integration of resources into the regular
classroom updates the information, and reduces preparation time. Online resource data bases are being
created by many school divisions to facilitate online and classroom teachers. Unfortunately, many
divisions and staff still guard this material as intellectual property. Collaborative, open-source
approaches are slow to grow among teaching professionals. Face-to-face still tends to be teacher
centered. This form of instruction relies heavily on the teacher’s subject knowledge; however, this may
not always be true. Many teachers use collaborative instruction to create communities with students
beyond the classroom walls. Existing school systems manage face-to-face instruction much more easily
than other forms of e-learning. Tradition dictates pupil-teacher ratios and staffing of schools. While the
different forms of instruction have changed, little has changed in the administration of education.

Empty classroom, Creative Commons: Melinda Shelton, 2010
Collaborative learning environments have been gaining popularity in the last five years. Collaborative
learning uses instructional methods that require students to work together on learning tasks either
directly or via Web 2.0 tools.

By Original by Markus Angermeier Vectorised and linked version by Luca Cremonini [CC-BY-SA-2.5
(], via Wikimedia Commons
Web 2.0 tools allow students to interact and collaborate using online Internet software. This has led to
the terms classroom 2.0 and e-learning 2.0. E-learning 2.0 refers to computer supported collaborative
learning from an e-learning perspective, while classroom 2.0 refers to the integration of online
collaborative tools into the face-to-face classroom.

Classroom 2.0 integrates social learning and social software such as blogs, wikis, streaming, podcasts
and virtual meeting places into instruction. Classroom 2.0 often uses Internet technologies that connect
schools to one another. Many teachers collaborate and use this to bring classes together to share
experiences and cultures. It may be a simple as streaming a demonstration in real time to several
schools simultaneously, or, the two-way sharing of information over large distances. A good example
used these tools was Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield Tweeting and Skyping directly to classrooms in
Canada during his mission on the international space station.
Successful Learner Characteristics
Distance education has been studied mostly at the postsecondary level. Few studies having been
conducted at the high-school level and little is known of the appropriate age or maturity level to
participate in online instruction. As technology becomes more integrated into Saskatchewan high
schools, the number of students participating in online instruction has increased. We have always had
distance education, but now with the accessibility and increased bandwidth of the internet, for the first
time we have the ability to impact students synchronously and asynchronously regardless of geographic
Approximately 80% of Saskatchewan households now have access to the internet. In North America the
growth of online learning has approached 20% annually (Canadian Virtual University, 2012). School
boards and senior administrators recognize the need to invest in online resources and to increase
instructional flexibility in an atmosphere of economic restraint. With the scarcity of educational
resources, institutions must invest wisely. Online programs must be successful. "The potential of e-
learning to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of Canada and to support the
lifelong learning needs of Canadians is well recognized" (Carey & Henderson, 2004).
If learner characteristics could be identified which predict the success of online students, then pre-
course testing could assess the suitability of candidates. While this would not be intended to limit access
to online instruction, it may be used as an assessment tool by students to self regulate and suggest
prerequisite instruction. Currently, many of the students enrolled in online instruction are referred by
local high school counselors. The potential candidates tend to be students who have already been
unsuccessful in face-to-face programs. Few counselors or students know of their suitability to learn in an
online environment. As more students seek alternative instructional venues, a greater demand is being
placed on online programs. Since 2009, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education has devolved its
responsibility for correspondence and DE to individual school divisions. The divisions have little
experience with distance education and know little of successful online learners. School divisions in
Saskatchewan must learn to monopolize the potential learning and monetary gains offered by distance
education and e-learning in the classroom. E-learning has the potential to be used by teachers to
individualize instruction. Classroom teachers, using online materials developed for DE instruction, can
offer several e-learning techniques for their students. Individualization can be accomplished by multiple
opportunities for engagement of students.
Learner Characteristics
Students in DE programs are more likely to drop out of a course then face-to-face students. Dropping
out of DE courses typically occurs at the beginning of a course. A study from Memorial University in
Newfoundland, examined the differences in grades between students in distance education and
classrooms. They reported that, on average, across all courses, students in DE courses perform slightly
better than those in classroom courses. A composite model of characteristics and skills perceived as
crucial to the success of post secondary online learners is shown below. The "persistence decision", to
continue and complete an online course, is critical to the success of an online learner.

In addition several studies have identified other potential variables:
 Having a strong academic self-concept.
 Exhibiting fluency in the use of online learning technologies.
 Possessing interpersonal and communication skills.
 Understanding and valuing interaction and collaborative learning.
 Possessing an internal locus of control.
 Exhibiting self-directed learning skills.
 Exhibiting a need for affiliation.
This gives us a picture of which variables affect student outcomes in online instruction. This can be used
as a guide for learners and counselors. However, these have been developed for the postsecondary
level. Little or no research has been conducted to determine the characteristics of successful K to 12
online learners.
Learner styles
The recognition of a student’s learning style is an important key to improving student learning. Based on
learner characteristics, students have three learning styles.

Most students learn in a combination of all three styles, but one of these styles will typically be
preferred over the others. Each student learns in a unique way.
Visual learners
Put simply, visual learners are people who learn primarily through seeing things. Learners can relate to
the characteristics listed above are visual. Approximately 40% of students are visual learners. Some
suggestions of instructional strategies for visual learners may include:
 Draw a timeline of events in history
 Draw scientific process.
 Make outlines of everything!
 Copying from the text or board.
 Creating concept maps.
 Diagram sentences!
 Take notes, make lists.
 Watching YouTube's.
 Outline reading.
 Use flashcards.
 Creating flowcharts.
 Use highlighters, circle words, underline.
Creating assessments for visual learners can be tricky. Visual learners do well at questions such as
reading maps, showing a process, or essays [particularly if allowed to use an outline]. These students do
poorly on listen and respond questions.
Auditory learners
Auditory learners are those who learn best through hearing. These students and make up approximately
30% of the population and enjoy strategies that employ:
 Recorded lectures - Khan Academy.
 Watching videos and multimedia presentations.
 Participating in group discussions or debates.
 Using audio recordings for language practice.
 Using word association to remember facts and lines.
 Repeating facts with eyes closed.
 Taping notes after writing them.
Auditory learners in general do poorly at reading passages and writing answers in a set amount of time.
This can lead to poor performances on typical in-class tests. They perform extremely well on writing
responses to lectures or videos they've recently heard and on oral exams. Auditory learners also exceed
at assessments which included include in-class presentations.
Kinesthetic learners
Kinesthetic learners make up approximately 30 % of students. These learners enjoy experiencing and
actively doing things. While this is a large part of the student population, classroom instruction neglects
these students. Kinesthetic learners can benefit from strategies such as:
 Taking lab based classes.
 In-class projects, including the creation of models.
 Making posters.
 Role playing.
 Taking field trips.
 Studying in groups.
 Studying in short blocks.
 Using memory games.
 Using flashcards to memorize.
Kinesthetic learners do well using assessments which are brief and active. They do well on tests and
quizzes which include short definitions, fill in the blank or multiple-choice. They do poorly on long essay

Little academic knowledge tends to get in the hands of high school educators. Action research, research
carried out within the classroom, is needed to foster an atmosphere of evidence-based decision-making
within high schools. The influence of research should be found within all school counseling and
administrative offices. As I have explored variables which influence student learning, I have recognized
that high school educators have little experience with research. There exists a vast divide between
research and practice in education. Teachers feel they have little time to reflect on their own practice,
with even less time for reading research articles. Experts or "talking heads" have little credibility in the
primary and secondary education field. The lack of appropriate research and informed educators, results
in a shallow lockstep approach to education. Teachers are not shown evidence from which to draw
conclusions but given prescribed steps to increase achievement scores. This desensitizes teachers and
does not allow for significant change in educational philosophy. My hope is that educators employ
research to make better decisions for the appropriate integration of e-learning into high schools.


Canadian Council of Learning. (2009). State of e-learning in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Author.
Retrieved from
Canadian Virtual University. (2012). Retrieved from Human Resources and Skills Development
Canada website: University Education in Canada jan17 2012.pdf
Tom Carey and Catherine Henderson, E-Learning for 21st Century Canadians: Toward a
Common Vision, internal paper, unpublished (Ottawa: Industry Canada, 2004); see also Rossiter
Consulting, State of the Field Review in E-Learning; and Charpentier et al., International E-
learning Strategies.
Crocker, R. (2007). Distance learning: access and outcomes. St. John’s, NL Memorial
University of Newfoundland. Retrieved from
Dabbagh, N. (2007). The online learner: Characteristics and pedagogical implications.
Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 7(3). Available:
Johnson, T. (2010). Perceptions of online teaching and learning in Newfoundland and Labrador
high schools: a qualitative study of participants. Informally published manuscript, Faculty of
Education, Memorial University, St. John's, Canada. Retrieved from
Poovai, A. (2002). In search of higher persistence rates in distance education online programs.
Retrieved from
2003 persistenace in de and online ed- theory.pdf
Queen, B., and Lewis, L. (2011). Distance Education Courses for Public Elementary and
Secondary School Students: 2009-10 (NCES 2012-009). U.S. Department of Education,
National Center for Education Statistics.
Saskatchewan Distance Learning Course Repository