Medium: online/synchronous and asynchronous
Social context: individual, one-to-one and group
The use of the Internet as a tool for distance learning has evolved primarily in further and higher education, particularly in support of part-time students working towards postgraduate degrees and professional certifications. A typical collaborative distance learning course is likely to include the following:
- Learning materials (web pages, downloadable documents, links, videos, podcasts, etc.) hosted on a virtual learning environment such as Moodle, Blackboard or Desire2Learn.
- A forum which students can use to communicate with each other asynchronously, to discuss issues, collaborate on group tasks and share their work. More recently, virtual learning environments have been extended to allow facilities for student blogging and collaboration using wikis.
- Some form of synchronous communication tool, at the very least a text chat facility, but more likely now to be web conferencing, to allow real-time discussion and the delivery of presentations.
- A facility to upload assignments for grading by a tutor.
If it is well-designed and facilitated, online distance learning can provide students with a rich and rewarding learning experience, combining individual and group work with the facility for one-to-one support from a tutor, and supporting a wide range of learning strategies. Many courses achieve wonderful results, but in the worst cases students are presented with little more than online lecture notes for materials, poor support and little in the way of meaningful collaboration.
Collaborative distance learning is:
- at its best when it mixes self-paced and live activities, encourages group collaboration, runs to a strict schedule, is well facilitated;
- best avoided when mainly self-study, the materials are dull, there is little contact with the facilitator.