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Editor’s Note
: At Eastern Mediterranean University in Turkey, a team of faculty and students examined the respective roles of teachers and students in Distance Learning. This in-depth analysis provides a detailed perspective with definitions based on research and practice.

Roles of the Students and Teachers
in Distance Education

Aytekin İşman, Fahme Dabaj, Zehra Altinay and Fahriye Altınay


Distance Education is a new, global technology-based education to facilitate easy, immediate learning and interaction for communicators, teachers, and students in education programs. Distance Education can provide mass-education for everyone. It leads people to learn individually and shifts responsibility for learning from instructors to students. It facilitates student selection of courses and content to reflect their needs and motivations. It provides creative and qualified ideas and information to motivate students from diverse backgrounds.

To be effective, distance education programs need to redefine the roles of teachers and students in the learning-teaching process.


Technology changes every life style and human activity to become fast, global, and time-critical. The computer facilitates speedy access to useful information. Social, global, cultural, and educational competitiveness are influenced by educational technologies that positively affect style, duration and method of learning for groups and individuals. Technology impacts where we learn. Distance learning in homes, offices, and libraries complement classical learning in classrooms (Clark, 2001).

Distance Education refers the interactive, educational process between student and teacher separated by physical distance (Harry et al., 1993, p.32). It adapts to individual differences and the way students react to media. Personality, intellectual abilities, cognitive and learning styles are important concerns in distance education (Harry et al., 1993).

Distance education is expanding rapidly as it gains worldwide acceptance by students, educational institutions, employer organizations, and the public at large. It makes education accessible to underserved populations, and flexible in fitting into complex lifestyles, schedules, and responsibilities of today’s learners. The quality of Distance Education is no longer in question, and focus has moved beyond defining what it is to determining what it can do.

Instead of traveling to attend regularly scheduled classes at a teacher-centered campus, students can access internet courses virtually anywhere. Despite the physical distance between students and teachers, communication technologies offer many opportunities for interaction. These same communication technologies facilitate rapid dissemination of new concepts in disciplines such as science and technology. Distance learning is a positive influence for change and global implementation in all disciplines. Pedagogy in traditional institutions of learning has been affected by distance education.

For societal development; education should be a leader in providing easy access to knowledge, effective ways to learn, and growth opportunities for qualified people. Distance education enables people to learn individually at any time or place. They learn from computer assisted programmes, interactive multimedia, and internet discussions rather than from lectures and classroom methods of instruction. Distance Education is really related by the discovery of truth for gaining antithesis sides of the thoughts to get the exact knowledge (Willis, 2002).

Distance educators refer to three distinct applications of computers in the off-campus study environment: Computer Managed Instruction, Computer Aided Learning, and Computer Conferencing.

Computer Managed Instruction facilitates management and administration of the learning process. It provides opportunities for electronic counselling of students, on-line registration, institutional record keeping, evaluation, and tracking student progress.

Computer Aided Learning includes software applications to teach students different subjects and concepts through pre-structured and programmed materials. Courseware either replaces or supplements material that students are expected to learn through other media (print, video, audio cassette). Lesson formats range from tutorials to simulations. Students can also use Internet resources for exploration and research.

Computer Conferencing uses the electronic network to enables individuals to communicate via computers at the same time (synchronous) or delayed time (asynchronous), either as a group or between two individuals. Typical formats include email, bulletin board, threaded discussion, net meeting (with the possibility of audio, video, and shared “blackboard” displays), and databases.

Distance Education requires alternative learning process, roles of teacher and students (Clark, 2001). People roles in distance education can be categorized in four subtitles;

  1. Students: In distance education, students have role to learn. In that process, student has difficult and different roles according to traditional learning process.

  2. Teacher: The main role of the teacher is the design of the course and setting the needs of students. Teacher has role to guide the students.

  3. Designer Groups: These persons determine goals, content, delivery systems, interaction, and evaluation. Usually it is a team of subject matter experts, educators, instructional designers, and production personnel. They design the cyber and digital environment for the effective teaching and learning.

  4. Directors: In the all institutes, there are people who direct planning, implementation, and evaluation of the education process.

Interdependence, distance and interaction interplay with the roles of students and teachers. There are three types of interaction within the distance education:

  1.     Learner-content interaction

  2.     Learner-instructor interaction

  3.     Learner-learner interaction

These three types of interactions play a key role in distance education. As in face-to-face communication, they share ideas through email and chatting (Harry et al., 1993).

In summary, distance education is evolving based on changing economical and social contexts. Knowledge has become one of the most important economic forces; knowledge is rapidly expanding and its useful life time becomes increasingly shorter. To survive in the market, companies need to change, to train and retrain their employed; unemployed workers also need to be retrained. Investing in the human resources seems to be the only way for a sustainable development (Mario and Heinze, 2001).

The pace of change, the need for lifelong learning, and diminishing educational budgets are pressuring educational institutions to create alternative efficient ways to learn through distance education.

The Aim of Research

Distance Education is a form of education in which course content is delivered and interaction provided by the technologies and methodologies of the Internet. The online environment allows people to interact with others asynchronously or synchronously in collaborative environments; to gain access to remote multimedia databases for active, resource-based learning; and to manage self-paced, individualized learning in a flexible way. Moreover, the Internet allows students to enroll in courses from anywhere in the world at almost any time.

There is a new vision developed during the past 15-20 years, strongly influenced by the social and cognitive sciences. The educational system now focuses on learning rather than on teaching. The focus of learning theory has changed to learning styles and perception. Knowledge is considered as socially constructed through action, communication and reflection involving learners (Huebner and Wiener, 2001).

To design effective distance education programs, it is important to understand how learning occurs and the factors that influence motivation, communication, perception, and learning. Learning strategies may consider 1) cognitive learning strategies 2) metacognitive activities for planning and self-regulation 3) learner’s goals and motivation. Cognitive strategies can not be divorced from learner’s purpose in using them. Therefore, learner goals and motivation highly influence the cognitive strategies. The distance education requires intrinsic motivation to support skill development, intellectual interests, challenge or personal growth consistent with the results of relevant research (Gibson, 1997).

Moore and Kearsley have enumerated design considerations for distance education:

  1.  Good structure

  2.  Clear objectives

  3.  Small units:

  4.  Planned participation

  5.  Completeness

  6.  Repetition

  7.  Synthesis

  8.  Stimulation

  9.  Variety

  10.  Open-ended

  11.  Feedback

  12.  Continuous Evaluation                 (Moore, Kearsley, 1996, p.122).

Reflection in distance education means engaging individual students to explore their experiences to lead to new understanding and appreciations. Holmberg (1995) handled the guided didactic conversation between teacher and student as pervasive characteristic of distance education;

  1. Those feelings of personal relation between the teaching and learning parties promote study pleasure and motivation.

  2. That such feelings can be fostered by well-developed self instructional material and two way communication at a distance.

  3. That intellectual pleasure and study motivation are favourable to the attainment of study goals and the use of proper study processes and methods.

  4. That the atmosphere, language and conventions of friendly conversation favour feelings of personal relation.

  5. That messages given and received in conversational forms are comparatively easily understood and remembered.

  6. That the conversation concept can be successfully translated, for use by media available, to distance education.

  7. That planning and guiding the work, whether provided by the teaching organization or the student, are necessary for organized study, which is characterized by explicit or implicit goal conceptions (Holmberg, 1995, p.47).

Learner autonomy should be the goal of distance education. It is good for students to be self-directed, motivated, evaluative, and responsible for their own learning. This changes the traditional role of the teacher from disseminator and manager to designer, moderator, guide and coach. Learner autonomy is realized when distance learners participate in setting learning objectives, implementing their program of study, and evaluating their personal learning and performance. Instead of face-to-face instruction, distance educators design learning environments that stimulate productive learning activities. Students use these activities to achieve course goals and meet their individual needs.

Learning environments range from teleconferences to interactive multimedia via the Internet. They are designed to engage the learner. For example, in audio conferencing there are four major strategies for the teacher:

  1. humanizing and relating to the learner

  2. participation and interaction

  3. message style presentation of information

  4. feedback to determine effectiveness of learning and teaching

Television and computers are tools used by educators to disseminate and manage instruction. It is important for educators to know the values and limitations of different communication media and techniques.

The coordinator of distance education should establish competence, continuity, control and confidence. Large group one-way communications should be supported by small group activities and interactive computer experiences. Even in distance learning, there may be a need for individual tutoring with real time interaction between students and teachers, or peer learning where students work together and support each other. Students need guidance, encouragement and reassurance; constructive criticism and advice, fair and objective grading, and timely response from the instructor.

For the most part, distance education students are adult learners. Compared to school-age students, they are self-reliant and responsible for their own learning. They should be encouraged to assume responsibility for setting objectives, self-direction, personal responsibility, personal experiences, making decisions, learning to solve problems, and maintaining intrinsic motivation (Moore, Kearsley, 1996).

Research in distance education encompasses the changing roles of teachers and students, the role of interactive technologies, and its global impact on traditional and underserved populations of learners. It describes distance education as synchronous and non-synchronous, anywhere and anytime, and learner focused. It adds a vocabulary of technical terms related to computers, television, and interactive multimedia.

Some studies compare the quality of learning; others examine the quality of the learning experience. For example, a study of Ohio’s distance education courses via microwave television compared student perceptions based demographic variables (İşman). “The level of student satisfaction in the class was not high. More than 50% of the observational data indicated that students did not agree that they learned as much in the interactive television class.” Test results revealed no relationship between gender and students’ perceptions. Age and college classification were strongly related to perceptions of interactive television courses. Less significant relationships were found between academic major and graduate/undergraduate status (İşman).

Teachers should share their knowledge and experience with students by providing consulting, helping, directing, and advising. Distance Education embraces whole of the student activity, responsibility and willingness for formulating and asking relevant questions and seeking answers. Many Distance Education programmes use discussion and question-answer type media, or decisions based on short scenarios or simulations. The main consideration is here to define and measure role effectiveness of teacher-student communication on learning at a distance (Willis, 2002). Distance education is new technological power for developing a dynamic self-concept for students. The constructivist approach changes the role of educators. Distance Education emulates this approach by leading the students (learner) to develop his or her own strategies, objectives, evaluation, implementation under guidance of a teachers (Gibson, 1997).

Importance Roles of Students and Teachers

Distance Education, or earning a degree online is a rapidly growing industry already slated to be worth billions. While many people waste countless hours surfing on the net, others invest the same time and technology to improve their education. Higher education institutions, business, industry, government, health care, and more recently K-12 schools are embracing this new opportunity for learning.

Distance Education resolves distance, time and some financial aspects of education. Distance learning empowers individuals to participate in self improvement and career development.

Related Research

Wilson, et al. (1991) describe the development of a distance education, professional development program for teacher education that promotes two-way communication between tutor and student through use of the telephone, electronic mail, and facsimile transmission. In 1986, McGill University in Montreal began by offering education courses to five teachers in remote areas, with enrolment expanding to 320 by 1991. Educational computing and media courses were adapted for distance education, representing the department's first major venture in developing specific instructional materials for distance learners. Additionally, the geographical area served grew to include all of Quebec, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is noted that, although the relationship between teacher and student in distance education seems to imply a form of learning that is remote, impersonal, and indifferent, students of the McGill program praise the courses for their "human" atmosphere and the "warm" interaction.” It is concluded that the McGill University program is a success, and will continue to establish more substantial programs in continuing education for professionals. It is also expected that future research will find immediate application in establishing new guidelines for tutor training. It is important to understand the real interaction among the students and teacher with their roles.

Clark (1993) describes a study that was conducted to examine the receptivity of faculty at two-year and four-year colleges and universities to distance education. It examines attitudes toward distance education, the influence of previous experience with distance education and educational media, and barriers to distance education.

Garrison, Anderson (1999) contrasts large distance education programs in industry with an approach called "little distance education" that is consistent with the traditional goals and values of creating knowledge through a critical community of learners. It discusses meeting the needs of a new market for continuing distance professional education. The effects of distance education and its shortcomings are evaluated.

Levin (2001) examines distance education in postsecondary institutions, specifically in community and technical colleges in the United States, as an educational domain where information technologies have a central place. Looks at characterizing features of distance education management through a group of distance education managers; it explores their role as professionals to identify what, to them, are critical issues in distance education. It reflects perceptions from the management and its influence on the program.

Rockwell, Furgason, Marx (2000) describe the participation of distance educators in a Delphi study to identify and rank future research and evaluation needs/issues. The study focused on planning for distance education; structuring decisions required for distance education; the implementation process; and evaluation needs in documenting outcomes. Four themes emerged: cooperation and collaboration among institutions; designing the educational experience for the distance learner; teacher preparation; and educational outcomes.

Giltrow (1997) discusses the role of distance education for K-12 as enrolment increases in the next 10 years. He notes distance education development needs, obstacles to addressing large-scale educational problems using distance education, and necessity for a three-part analysis of America's distance education. When investigating effectiveness, it is important to evaluate alternatives and negative aspects of distance education.

Merisotis (1999) discusses the Outcomes of Distance vs. Traditional Classroom-Based Learning. It embraced the question “What's the difference between distance learning and traditional classroom-based instruction?” This question has become increasingly prominent as technology has made distance learning much more common. A web site maintained by Thomas Russell at North Carolina State University (and a recently published companion book) is called The No Significant Difference Phenomenon, and compiles various articles, papers, and research studies on distance learning. This site is important because evaluates and compare relative strengths of traditional and distance education.

Dominguez (2001) illustrated a new, parsimonious model that investigators interested in distance education can use to ask meaningful questions about the relative quality of distance education courses (Dominguez & Ridley, 1999). The approach moves the emphasis from student-level data to course-based data. Sample data comparing online and traditional higher education courses covering nine disciplines were reported. These data revealed that preparation for advanced courses was statistically equivalent whether the course prerequisites were online courses or their traditional classroom counterparts. The article further explored the usefulness of this framework for identifying a significant discipline-related difference in the relative effectiveness of online and traditional prerequisites as preparation for advanced courses.

Jones (2000) wrote an article which was about that these Australian educators, the ongoing American debate over distance education reported in the daily press, The Chronicle, and Change, is surprising because the essential debate is long over in Australia. Respected Australian universities have been awarding indistinguishable degrees to on-campus and off-campus students for decades. Nearly 14 percent of university students study at a distance. When we look, as Australians still occasionally do, toward Britain, we see Open University degrees recognized as representing a rigorous, thorough British education. This article is important to see the alternative view on distance educational disciplines.

The above reviews of research define distance education in relation to information technology and Internet based access in education. They define the roles of teachers and students, different management perceptions, communication models and communication barriers.

Findings and Comments

Distance Education requires an individualized learning process where the learner can access knowledge from computer-assisted programs and/or other technologies such as television. With development of high technology, learners look for fast, easy, any-time, anywhere education opportunities. They expect high educational standards based on global competition. Distance Education may serve as an alternative to traditional on-campus instruction or “blended” to combine distance with on-campus courses.

The changing roles of students and teachers in distance education are influencing classical education standards and pedagogy. According to research findings on the roles of the students’ in distance education are:

  1. Be disciplined and on task

  2. Consult with and seek guidance from advisors through required access methods

  3. Assume responsibility for your own learning

  4. Develop effective interaction with teachers and counselors (like classical learning)

  5. Evaluate and judge your own performance

  6. Combat prejudice and communication barriers

According to research findings on the roles of the teachers in distance education are:

  1. Assume responsibility for preparation and presentation of learning tasks

  2. Immediately consult with students to correct problems and keep them on task

  3. Be aware of student needs and wishes; respond promptly to communications and tests

  4. Build student motivation

  5. Combat prejudice of communicational barriers

  6. Establish an effective environment for student-teacher and student-student interaction

Research provides data to compare effectiveness of the teaching and learning in a great variety of situations. Learning in a high-tech, global environment presents new roles and responsibilities for both teacher and learner. In addition; there is a radical change in construction and delivery of course content. Media to facilitate interaction between and among learners, teachers, and content increases the opportunity for in-depth and meaningful learning (Gibson, 1997). Constructivist techniques support learning and teaching, self-development and self evaluation (İşman, 1999). Constructivism is an integral part of distance education. The focus is on the student and his active role in learning supported by technology.

Teacher Role in Distance Education based on Constructivist Approach;

  1. Teacher promotes learner autonomy and is aware of individual differences.

  2. Teacher uses relevant and current information to transmit knowledge. Teacher constantly researches the curriculum and provides concrete up-to-date examples.

  3. Teacher gives importance to the thoughts of students and promotes student research, evaluation, discussion, and reporting.

  4. Teacher is aware of individual student differences when designing course materials

  5. Teacher knows student prerequisite skills and knowledge and uses this foundation to build new knowledge. In addition, the teacher knows how learner can learn.

  6. Teacher initiates student-teacher interaction, and has communication and technological skills to effectively implement distance education.

  7. Teacher constructs student-centered learning with opportunities for interaction. Students are responsible for learning and responsible for contacting teacher when needed.

  8. Teacher collaborates with student in self-development and responsibility.

  9. Teacher provides environment, materials, and guidance for collaborative learning, interactive discussion groups, individual learning, and research.

  10. Teacher provides prompt and accurate feedback to students to facilitate learning.

Student Role in Distance Education based on Constructivist Approach;

  1. Students use appropriate technology to interact collaboratively with each other and teacher, and use feedback and consultation to develop and refine knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

  2. Students are self-responsible for their own learning. They should decide what they want to learn, establish their goal, research and develop their subject.

  3. Students research current data to answer questions and solve problems

  4. Students learn to solve problems by assessment, data collection, and developing and implementing strategies using relevant information.

  5. Students identify communication barriers, their causes, and solutions.

  6. Students promote life-long learning and know how to access and use information when instruction is finished.

The roles of students and teachers under the constructivist approach are listed above. These roles should be in the consciousness of communicators to develop effective distance education processes and resolve interaction difficulties (İşman, 1999). Tearchers and students need to be responsible collaborative planners, communicators and evaluators in their distance education roles. Together they can break down communicational barriers and overcome limitations in the technology and its implementation. Substantial benefits will result from taking personal responsibility, improving the process, and solving problems to create a rich interactive learning environment.


Arbour, Dominique (2002) “Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Distance Education”

Clark, Melody (2001) “The Soft Technology of Distance Education”

Dominguez, Paula (2001) “Assessing Distance Education Course and Discipline Differences in Their Effectiveness”

D.R., Jones (2000) “The Distance Education Debate an Australian View”

Harry, Keith, John Magnus, Keegan, Desmond (1993) “Distance Education: New Perspectives” Rutledge in London and New York.

Holmberg, Bore (1995) “Theory and Practice of Distance Education” Rutledge in New York.

Huebner, Mary Kathleen and Wiener, R. William (2001) “Distance Education in 2001”

Is man, Aytekin? (1997). “Students’ Perception of A Class Offered Through Distance Education” Dissertation. Ohio University.

İşman, Aytekin (1999) “The Conceptual Sides of Educational Technology: The Effects of Constructivism in Education, Instruction Environment” Symposium of Contemporary Approaches in Teacher Education. Dokuz Eylül University Buca Education Faculty, İzmir.

İşman, Aytekin et al. January. (2002) “The Effects of Constructivism in Science Education” TOJET (The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology). v.n.2

Jones, Edmund et al. (2002) “Faculty Philosophic Position Towards Distance Education” ERIC NO: EJ649246

Levin, John S. (2001) “Is Management of Distance Education Transforming Instruction in Colleges?” ERIC NO: EJ629905

Mario, C. De Norma and Heinze, Toni (2001) “The Status of Distance Education in Personnel Preparation Programs in Visual Impairment”

Merisotis, James (1999) “What is the difference?”

Moore, G. Michael, Kearsley, Greg (1996) “Distance Education System View” Wadsworth Publishing Company in United States of America.

Notar E. Charles, Wilson Janell, Restauri L. Sherri, Friery A. Kathleen (2002) “Going the Distance: active learning”

Perraton, Hilary (1993) “Distance Education for Teacher Training” Routledge in London and New York.

Rockwell, Kay-Marx, David (2000) “Research and Evaluation Needs for Distance Education” ERIC NO: EJ623507

Willis, Barry (2002) “Distance Education Glance”

About the Authors

Aytekin İşman is an Associate Professor in computer and educational technology lecturing in the Department of Educational Sciences of the Faculty of Education at the Eastern Mediterranean University. He received a B.A. in educational measurement and evaluation from the Hacettepe University, Turkey, and M.A. degree in educational communication and technology from the New York University, USA, and Ph.D. degree in instructional technology from the Ohio University, USA. His current research interests are in education, in particular, educational technology and distance education.

Contact: Aytekin İşman. Eastern Mediterranean University, Faculty of Education
Gazimagosa  KKTC, Mersin 10 Turkey.
 Tel: +90 392 630 2295  Fax: +90 392 630 4044

Fahme Dabaj is a lecturer in the Department of Educational Sciences of the Faculty of Education at the Eastern Mediterranean University. He received a B.A. in Civil Engineering from the Eastern Mediterranean University, M.Sc. degree in Computer Science from the same University, and currently he is a Ph.D. student in the field of communication barriers in distance education. His current research interests are in education, in particular distance education and educational technology.

Contact: Fahme Dabaj, Eastern Mediterranean University, Faculty of Education
Gazimagosa  KKTC. Mersin 10  Turkey  Tel: +90 392 630 2429   Fax: +90 392 630 4044

Zehra Altınay is a research assistant in the Department of Educational Sciences of the Faculty of Education at Eastern Mediterranean University. She received B.A. in Faculty of Communication and Media Studies from the Department of Public Relations and Advertising at Eastern Mediterranean University. Currently, she is master student in the field of distance education in the education department with the subject of students and teachers views towards online courses and program and their roles at Eastern Mediterranean University. Her current research interests are in education, distance education and teacher education in educational technology and quality in distance education.

Fahriye Altınay is a research assistant in the Department of Educational Sciences of the Faculty of Education at Eastern Mediterranean University. She received B.A. in Faculty of Communication and Media Studies from the Department of Public Relations and Advertising at Eastern Mediterranean University. Currently, she is master student in the


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