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Pros and Cons of Distance Learning

literature review about modular distance learning

Distance learning may just be the wave of the future, but that doesn’t mean it’s always an easy or ideal choice. Distance learning comes in several forms, including written correspondence courses, remote classrooms and online classes. If you’re considering signing up for online courses, we think you should know about these key pros and cons to make the best decision for you.

Pro: Flexibility

You can learn from anywhere – your sofa, your local coffee shop or even while you’re on vacation. That’s one of the aspects of distance learning that makes it incredibly appealing, particularly for anyone with a busy schedule or constraints that otherwise prevent them from getting to a brick-and-mortar classroom. In addition to learning at your own pace, you get to set your own schedule, which is a definite plus for many people.

Con: The Challenge of Self-Directed Learning

You get to set your pace and schedule, which sounds great. But if you’re someone who really needs structure and supervision, this can be an added burden. It also leaves you wide open to the temptation to procrastinate. You really need to be motivated and disciplined to make it work.

Pro: You Can Learn from Anywhere

With distance learning, geographic boundaries became a thing of the past. You aren’t limited to choosing a school that’s in your area. You have the option to choose any school, anywhere that offers the program you want. That means you have more options for schools in your own country and even internationally-located schools.

Con: You Don’t Get as Much Interaction

When you’re on campus and in a classroom-based course, you naturally interact with other students, instructors and professors. But with distance learning, you’re more isolated, with less interaction with your peers and teachers. You also miss out on things like cultural events, dances and other campus-based activities.

Pro: Learn and Earn

You’re busy and you’ve got to keep up with the bills. That’s what makes distance learning so great — you can hold down a full-time or part-time job and fit your coursework in around your work schedule. That provides an otherwise unprecedented opportunity to pay your way through school while keeping up with your career or job.


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Home > Books > Virtual Learning

A Review of Distance Learning and Learning Management Systems

Submitted: 30 April 2016 Reviewed: 11 August 2016 Published: 14 December 2016

DOI: 10.5772/65222

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In recent years, rapid developments in technology and the web have led to many changes in education. One of the most important changes in education is in the form of distance learning. Distance learning, which is used to define education where educators and learners are physically separated, is not a new concept; however, emerging technologies and the web allow web‐based distance learning and therefore increase its popularity. As a result of these developments, many universities have started to use web‐based distance learning systems to provide flexible education that is independent of time and place. In this chapter, we review all popular, widely used, and well‐known learning management systems and include detailed comparison of some of these systems to allow institutions to choose the right system for their distance education activities.

  • distance learning
  • literature review
  • educational research
  • learning management systems

Author Information

Mümine kaya keleş *.

  • Adana Science and Technology University, Adana, Turkey

Selma Ayşe Özel

  • Çukurova University, Adana, Turkey

*Address all correspondence to: [email protected]

1. Introduction

Distance education, which is now also referred to as distance learning or e‐learning, has existed for centuries. Although as Keegan says “the ideas surrounding the educational endeavor are somewhat similar” [ 1 ], it is not easy to find a single definition of distance education. While according to North [ 2 ], a few definitions even look to define it in terms of a single technology, according to long‐distance teaching [ 3 ], others display distance education simply as a recent development of the class into a remote location [ 4 ]. However, such definitions are restrictive and fail to recognize the actual needs of distance education users. Mugridge [ 5 ] provides a better definition, describing distance education as “a form of education in which there is normally a separation between teacher and learner and thus one in which other means—the printed and written word, the telephone, computer conferencing or teleconferencing, for example—are used to bridge the physical gap”.

Many educational institutions have created solutions to their increasing educational needs through the development of distance education programs. Distance education allows educational paths to be determined by educators and students, who are separated with physical distance, using technology (e.g., audio, video, data, and written text). It is a form of education in which students, teachers, and teaching materials in different geographies are brought together through communication technology [ 6 ]. Using video, audio, active learning, simulations, and electronic advances appeals to a variety of students with multiple learning styles.

This chapter presents a review of distance learning literature; the purposes, advantages, disadvantages, and types of distance learning; and a detailed comparison of web‐based distance learning tools in education.

2. A review of distance learning

Research on distance education has been subject to long and numerous debates [ 7 – 10 ]. Distance education needs a reliable means of communication between students and lecturers. Therefore, the history of distance education begins at the point where a reliable communication method is established. Most historians date distance education to the eighteenth century, when a few lecturers began to offer what were called correspondence courses. One of the first examples of distance education was observed in 1728, when “an advertisement in the Boston Gazette named ‘Caleb Phillips’, teacher of the new method of Short Hand” was searching students for lessons to be sent weekly [ 11 ]. But technology‐based distance education started after the introduction of some devices, which are using both sight and sound, into the schools in the early 1900s.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, microwave technology was developed. So networking technology costs were reduced, and universities began to use microwave networks to take advantage of the Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) authorized by the Federal Communications Commission [ 12 ].

Today, distance education programs have a wide range of approaches [ 13 ]. For example, independent study courses through computer networking, computer‐delivered instruction, communication between students and instructors through electronic mail, class sessions, cluster groups, undergraduate and graduate degrees through cable networks, and video courses with texts and other collateral materials are these approaches [ 13 ].

In summary, the history of distance education shows a constant state of evolution. In the historical view of distance education, a stream of new ideas and technologies has been observed. Historical development of distance education shows that nontraditional education tends to blend with traditional education while meeting the changing learning theories and developing technologies [ 13 ].

2.1. The purposes of distance learning

The main goal of distance education is to overcome barriers of place and time. Learners may live in isolated, less‐populated and nonurban, rural areas and have no access to education. Other learners may have ready access to a private school or college but that college might not offer the course of study needed by that learner. Distance learning allows education to reach those who are not able to physically attend courses in universities [ 14 ].

One of the most important purposes of distance education is to provide an opportunity of education, often on an individual basis, to learners who are not physically present in a classroom [ 15 ]. Also, it provides equity in educational opportunities by allowing access to quality education for those who otherwise would have been denied.

2.2. The advantages and disadvantages of distance learning

The aim of distance education is to provide a strong communication between students and lecturers. That's why there are also disadvantages as well as advantages of distance education.

The students have the convenience of course materials being delivered to his/her home or office.

Students may gain useful, transferable skills, such as planning and research.

Students can make their feedback easily.

There is no waste of time in transport.

Accessing students without face‐to‐face learning opportunities.

Distance learning provides just‐in‐time learning.

Distance learning is associated with technology more than face‐to‐face learning.

Distance education can reach a wider audience.

Distance learning can facilitate greater learner‐instructor interaction.

Distance learning can equalize access to education.

Distance learning makes information and lecture notes open to everyone.

Distance learning minimizes the costs of stationery.

Distance learning increases the effectiveness of education through the use of items such as sound and image.

There is a lack of eye contact between the students and the lecturers.

It can be occasional Internet provider downtime.

Student must be more active in education environment.

The cost of developing course materials is too much, and it is needed more time to prepare course materials.

There is unconsciousness in the use of educational technology.

Distance learning is not suitable for undisciplined learners or inflexible instructors.

Laboratory and experimental courses cannot be given remotely.

Students who have little technological knowledge cannot follow the courses.

Students and instructors need to take technical training and support.

Some of the students cannot access the necessary facilities, such as computers, Internet, etc.

2.3. Types of distance learning



Synchronous learning requires all students to participate the classes at the same time. The method of delivery is usually interactive and includes Internet chat sessions, teleconferences, telecourses, and web conferencing [ 16 ]. Synchronous distance education is less flexible than asynchronous distance education because synchronous distance education requires all enrolled students and the teacher to be online at a specific time. Asynchronous instructions do not require simultaneous participation of all students in the class, so it is more flexible. Asynchronous instruction gives students the freedom to interact with the material and instructor at a time that is convenient for them [ 16 ].

Internet‐based distance education has become a specific focus for at least three reasons according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) [ 17 ]:

First, Internet is quickly becoming the predominant technology in distance education, because of its increasing telecommunications bandwidth capabilities. Second, Internet‐based distance education especially asynchronous instruction mode allows the teaching and the learning processes to occur “at any time and any place.” Provision of the interactive learning activities at any time and any place has become the most important characteristic of this technology. Third, Internet‐based distance education is, in many ways, fundamentally different from traditional classroom‐based education.

The identification and management of users

Preparation of online course contents

Managing courses

Monitoring and analyzing student behaviors

Assessment of students’ achievement status

The creation and management of interactive communication media

2.4. Learning management systems

Computers and computer networks are rapidly becoming the preferred long‐distance communication tool, and they are evolving as a major resource in distance education. There are many computer‐based distance education tools, and the names of the major tools and their web addresses are listed in Table 1 [ 19 ].

Table 1.

The distance learning tools and web addresses.

Table 2.

The comparison of all popular learning management systems.

In this chapter, we have reviewed the most popular, widely used and well‐known learning management systems (LMSs) and included detailed comparison of these systems. Therefore, we include ATutor, Blackboard, Claroline, Desire2Learn (D2L), Docebo, Dokeos, eFront, Moodle, OLAT, and Sakai systems in this chapter. Among the others, Blackboard and Moodle are the two most well‐known web‐based learning management systems widely used in universities and higher education [ 19 ].

2.4.1. ATutor

ATutor is a free and open‐source course management system that has a simple and straightforward structure. It is a web‐based learning content management system (LCMS) under the GNU General Public License (GPL). It was prepared such that it can be easily used in any type of computer system and all operating systems. ATutor has been used in many universities, institutions, research centers, and educational institutions.

ATutor was implemented in Personal Home Page (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor), and it includes facilities for teachers and students. Students can change the learning environment based on existing templates, send messages, and collaborate on courses. On the other hand, instructors can manage the courses, store files, and create workgroups. At the same time, in ATutor, people with disabilities were considered, so ATutor was arranged to use easily.

ATutor has blog, forum, photo gallery, glossary, site map, chat, directory, tests and surveys, and MyTracker tool, which tracks users’ navigational patterns. It supports Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) standards and Instructional Management Systems (IMS) packets. It is available in more than 20 languages. Some video conference softwares such as Adobe Connect, BigBlueButton, and OpenMeetings modules can be integrated in ATutor. Figure 1 shows web page for an ATutor course.

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 1.

ATutor Course Web Page.

2.4.2. Blackboard

Early in 2006, owners of Blackboard Learning System and WebCT decided to join their forces and merge two companies under the existing name of one of them—Blackboard. The new entity continues to support both systems [ 19 ]. Also, Blackboard Learning System acquired Angel Learning System in May 2009. So the Blackboard Learning System is a web‐based commercial distance education system dedicated to education containing teaching resources and straightforward user hierarchy. It allows instructors to post course information and materials as well as readings and assignments.

Thanks to the flexibility of the Blackboard Learning System, it is easy to design a course curriculum or study schedules, and the continuation of education courses go on flawlessly. Not only can the teacher shift page layouts including font types or colors but also choose texts and icon links. It also facilitates interaction between users, who can have basic discussion, and offers other collaborative tools.

The idea behind the Blackboard Learning System is to let teachers deliver course content, especially adjusted to large courses at lower levels. The role of an administrator of the system is limited to conducting basic operations such as initial course and teacher registration. The administrator is not overly dependent on it as many course management tasks, such as student and course content registration or tests and statistics check, can be carried out by a teacher. The system consists of many communication and discussion features enabling active participation of students [ 20 ]. The possibility of the use of multimedia, an instructional option, is willingly utilized by teachers. Figure 2 shows the web page for a Blackboard course.

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 2.

Blackboard Course Web Page.

2.4.3. Claroline

Claroline is an open‐source e‐learning and e‐working platform. It can work on both Windows and Linux server systems. Claroline provides the ability to manage public education activities on the web and to create effective online courses. There is a large community of users and software developers worldwide.

In Claroline Learning Management System, a user has three roles. These roles are student, teacher, and administrator.

GNU/Linux, BSD, Unix, Windows (9x, ME, NT4, 2000, XP, Vista, and 7), or Mac OS X operating systems, Apache, IIS or Wampler web servers, PHP and MySQL database server should be installed on the web server where Claroline is installed. It is under the GPL.

Two language options, which are website language and course language, are available in Claroline. It has been used in more than 100 countries and translated into 35 languages. However, some languages such as Turkish are not supported completely and some sections are still awaiting translation.

Claroline has rich interaction tools such as chat, forum, and wiki, but there is no survey functionality and whiteboard application. It does not require any programming skills to install, manage, and use. It supports SCORM standards. Claroline allows user lists to be created and user statistics to be seen. User groups can be created in courses. Figure 3 shows a web page from Claroline.

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 3.

Claroline Course Web Page.

2.4.4. Desire2Learn

Desire2Learn, which is also known as Brightspace Learning Management System, is another educational learning management system. It is based on competency education and provides a cloud‐based learning suite.

Desire2Learn is a commercial educational system that supports mobile learning and web conferencing. It also has some features such as exams, discussions, assignments, quizzes, grades, and portfolio‐based activities. D2L supports foreign languages and mathematical notations. D2L also includes a learning repository, course creation tools, an e‐portfolio module, mobile delivery, analytics, and lecture capture facilities. Figure 4 presents web page of Desire2Learn.

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 4.

Desire2Learn Course Web Page.

2.4.5. Docebo

Docebo LMS platform is a learning management system that is based on SaaS/cloud platform. With Docebo, users can organize, track, and distribute online courses for formal learning. The instructors can create users as well as groups and create reports about them. It was offered as open source but it is not available as open source for a while. Although Docebo is offered for education, now it is primarily used in the corporate sector.

Docebo is under the GPL, so it has no licensing cost. It is compatible with SCORM, Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC), and xAPI. It has a component‐based architecture and works with PHP and MySQL database.

Docebo has interfaces for video conferences. It is integrated with Adobe Connect, BigBlueButton, Cisco WebEx, Citrix GoToMeeting, OnSync by Digital Samba, and TeleSkill Live. Also, it has integrations with Google Apps, WordPress, and Vivocha.

Docebo is available in more than 30 languages and more than 10 countries. This platform is mobile‐ready platform, so it includes mobile learning. The features of Docebo are blogs, course catalogs, labels, and discussions. Figure 5 shows a course web page from Docebo.

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 5.

Docebo Course Web Page.

2.4.6. Dokeos

Dokeos is an online and open‐source course management system that is widely known and freely available. It is also a learning content management system based on MySQL database and written in PHP language. Dokeos is based on Drupal, which is a content management system. It is available in standard and Professional (PRO) versions.

Dokeos is used in more than 60 countries, and it has been translated into 34 languages. It features a variety of e‐learning templates and e‐learning course authoring tools. The features of Dokeos are documents, announcements, tests, agendas, forums, links, tracking tools, and chats [ 21 ].

Dokeos supports mobile and cloud learning. Also, it supports SCORM, AICC and Tin Can API compliant. Portals and assessments can be used in Dokeos system; on the other hand, it has agenda, forums, discussion forums, chat, videoconference, open questions, and assignments. It is fully compatible across all browsers and platforms. Web page of Dokeos is presented in Figure 6 .

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 6.

Dokeos Course Web Page.

2.4.7. eFront

eFront is a modern learning, which is also known as a course management system or learning management systems or virtual learning environment, and an educational platform. eFront is designed to help creating online courses. It has many features such as project management, extended statistics, files management, reports generators, assignments builders, internal messaging system, forum, calendar, chat, survey, etc. It supports SCORM standards.

eFront is a multilingual platform. It offers two types of language files: machine translated and human translated. It supports 48 languages. While 18 of these languages are machine translated, 30 languages are human translated.

This learning management system is PHP based and open source. eFront runs on GNU/Linux, Microsoft Windows, and any other operating system that supports PHP 5.1+ and MySQL 5+. It is under the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL) license. eFront supports Unicode and LDAP, and uses 3‐tier architecture with low bandwidth connections.

eFront is content friendly by using presentations and videos. It has multiple types of test and questions. This course management system can collect and analyze surveys. It supports the blended learning. Some video conference software such as Adobe Connect, BigBlueButton, and OpenMeetings can be used with eFront. A sample course page is given in Figure 7 .

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 7.

eFront Course Web Page.

2.4.8. Moodle

Moodle is an online course management system that is widely known and freely available. The word Moodle stands for “Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment” and was created by Martin Dougiamas who is a computer scientist and an educator at a university in Perth, Australia [ 22 ].

Moodle is a software package that it is used to create Internet‐based courses and their websites. Moodle is used in 234 countries, providing support for 139 languages, and has 88,204,960 registered users according to Moodle statistics on the Moodle website in July 2016. There are currently 10,106,758 registered courses and 70,872 active sites that have been registered from those countries.

Moodle is utilized by both institutions and individuals. The list of the former is long, including universities, high and primary schools, governmental departments, military, and healthcare organizations as well as airlines or oil companies. Homeschoolers, independent educators, and special educators are among the individual users.

Moodle, a PHP‐based open‐source online learning system, has been used since 2002 as a distance education tool, and has various versions supported by Windows, Linux, Unix, and Mac OS X operating systems. The latest version of Moodle is Moodle 3.1.1, released on 11 July 2016. Moodle is under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). There are documents for use, training, and online help in Moodle. Moodle has 14 different activity types such as assignments, chat, choice, database, external tool, feedback, forum, glossary, lesson, quiz, SCORM, survey, Wiki, and workshop.

A number of programs, namely PHP, which is a script language embedded into html codes that work in a server‐side; MySQL, which is a database management system that can run in the background and can respond to requests, such as a high‐performance web server; and Apache, which is an open‐source software web server that is completely free and has a high performance, are required before the Moodle program is set up.

Moodle supports mobile learning, so it has its own Moodle Mobile application. Moodle Mobile supports currently 15 languages. It has responsive design for phones and tablets. Users can download and view some course resources. A course web page from Moodle is presented in Figure 8 .

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 8.

Moodle Course Web Page.

2.4.9. OLAT

OLAT is an abbreviation of the words Online Learning and Training. OLAT is a Java‐based open‐source learning management system that was developed in 1999. OLAT is under the Apache 2.0 Open Source License. OLAT has forums, chat, blogs, surveys, grading and submission modules, wikis, quizzes, and discussions. It allows monitoring the effectiveness of learners and tutors.

OLAT is multilingual and available in fifteen languages. OLAT runs on Unix, Linux, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Windows, and Mac OS X operating systems. Java SDK, Apache as a web server, Tomcat Servlet Engine as an application server, and MySQL or PostgreSQL as database are required to install OLAT. It supports SCORM, IMS Content Packaging, and OTI standards. A main web page of OLAT is displayed in Figure 9 .

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 9.

OLAT Course Web Page.

2.4.10. Sakai

Sakai is a free learning system that is designed for educational institutions. It is a Java‐based LMS. It has been launched as a “Sakai Project” supported by the Mellon Foundation.

Sakai is a free and open‐source course design platform. It is web‐based and platform‐independent application with many features such as supporting training. It can run on CentOS, Debian GNU/Linux, Fedora, Gentoo Linux, Mac OS X server, Microsoft Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), Sun Solaris, SuSe Linux, and Ubuntu operating systems. It can be downloaded from the Internet for free, and it works interactively with both MySQL and Oracle database management systems.

Sakai has forums, chat rooms, message center, assignments, grade book, discussions, syllabus, wikis, and WebDAV. It is designed to present mathematical notation such that it can display LaTeX equations on most pages. Sakai is under the Educational Community License (ECL). It is available in more than 20 languages.

Some video conference software such as Adobe Connect, BigBlueButton, Kaltura, and OpenMeetings can be integrated in Sakai, and it has IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standards. Figure 10 shows a sample web page for a course from Sakai.

literature review about modular distance learning

Figure 10.

Sakai Course Web Page.

2.4.11. Comparison of learning management systems

In the below sections, we provide comparisons among the most similar learning management systems, and in Table 2 , all comparisons of all learning management systems are summarized. ATutor, eFront, and Moodle

ATutor is a PHP application and it has some registered installations such as Moodle.

ATutor seems like a down‐sized version of Moodle with a slightly more technical look than eFront. But the development on its modules are rather limited [ 23 ]. Blackboard and Moodle

The Blackboard Learning System (i.e., WebCT) ensures variety in course content and materials. In addition, the Blackboard Learning System assists students in their offline efforts. Curriculum design is supported by the two systems by providing course templates, thanks to which instructors can deliver course materials, define study schedules, and plan class activities.

Regarding communication and discussion, both Blackboard and Moodle deliver discussion forums and chat rooms together with exchange of e‐mails and files.

The Blackboard Learning System also provides private folders and internal e‐mail for students and gives them an option of making their own notes. As for performance assessment, systems incorporate assessment and grading functions.

Course administration is embraced again by both tools by facilitating uploading of student data and course data in batches. The Blackboard Learning System is also equipped with direct data interfaces. It should be noted that there are certain similarities between Blackboard and Moodle such as option of student enrollments in courses, access to discussion forums, or taking quizzes and tests.

The Blackboard Learning System and Moodle are about equal in terms of administrative features, collaboration, and instruction methods.

Other common features are supporting file upload (e.g., Word, PowerPoint, audio), being SCORM compliant, allowing grading, providing course calendar, and monitoring students’ participation. Blackboard, eFront, and Sakai

The Blackboard Learning System is superior to Sakai in terms of administrative features and course development. But in terms of collaboration and instruction methods, both are very similar.

When eFront and Blackboard are compared, it is observed that eFront is superior to Blackboard in terms of administrative features but they are about equal in terms of course development and instruction methods.

Sakai is superior to eFront in terms of collaboration. D2L (Brightspace) and eFront

eFront is superior to D2L (Brightspace) in terms of administrative features but in terms of collaboration, course development and instruction methods both of them are about equal. D2L, OLAT, and Sakai

D2L (Brightspace) is superior to OLAT in terms of administrative features and course development, but for collaboration facility, both of them are about equal.

D2L (Brightspace) is superior to Sakai with respect to instruction methods used. Dokeos, Docebo, and eFront

Docebo is superior to eFront with respect to administrative features and course development. But in terms of collaboration methods and instruction methods, eFront and Dokeos are very similar. Moodle, Dokeos, and OLAT

Dokeos looks better and less complex than Moodle in terms of interface [ 23 ].

But Moodle is superior to OLAT in terms of administrative features, collaboration, course development, and instruction methods. Moodle and Sakai

Unlike Moodle, Sakai is mainly implemented in Java and can cause some problems in older versions of browsers [ 23 ].

Moodle is superior to Sakai in terms of administrative features, collaboration, and course development. OLAT and Sakai

Sakai, similar to OLAT, is a Java‐based e‐learning system developed by an international alliance of universities, colleges, and commercial affiliates; and both have very similar properties [ 24 ]. OLAT and the others

Although most of the other e‐learning applications in this chapter are PHP based, OLAT (Online Learning and Training) is based on Java and is Apache Licensed [ 24 ].

eFront and Moodle are superior to OLAT in terms of administrative features and course development.

3. Conclusion

In this chapter, the literature about distance education and learning management systems are summarized. This chapter also presents a brief comparison of some of the most significant learning management systems used for education.

In summary, the history of distance education shows a constant state of evolution. A stream of new ideas and technologies exist in the historical view of distance education. It is also observed that nontraditional education tries to blend with traditional education while meeting the changing learning theories and developing technologies [ 13 ].

The Internet‐based distance learning model can be defined as a transmission of educational content with the use of text, image, video, and audio files over the Internet, online or offline. According to the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), the Internet‐based distance education has gained a special status for three basic reasons. First of all, the Internet has become the predominant technology in distance education, due to its increasing telecommunications bandwidth capabilities. Second, the Internet‐based distance education allows the teaching and learning process to happen “at any time and any place.” Asynchronous interactive learning environments, especially, have become the signature characteristic of this field. Finally, the Internet‐based distance education is, in many ways, fundamentally different than traditional classroom‐based education hence attractive for learners [ 17 ]. The main difference is that the Internet‐based distance education removes the physical barrier and time constraints for students and lecturers.

Within the framework of this study, the open‐source learning management systems especially Moodle are widely used particularly in universities and higher education institutions. In general, the commercial learning management systems especially Blackboard are superior to open‐source learning management systems in terms of administrative features; however, according to instruction methods that are employed, the open‐source learning management systems especially Moodle are superior to the commercial learning management systems. According to existing literatures [ 25 ], Moodle still comes out as the top used system among the open‐source LMSs. This result also supports our observations that are explained in this chapter.

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  • 17. Merisotis J. P., Phipps R. A. Quality on the Line: Benchmarks for Success in Internet‐Based Distance Education, The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), IHEP Report, National Education Association (NEA). [Internet]. 2000. Available from: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/HE/QualityOnTheLine.pdf [Accessed: 2016‐07‐01]
  • 18. Al U., Madran R. O. Web-Based Distance Education Systems: Required Features and Standards. Bilgi D?nyas?. 2004; 5(2): 259?271.
  • 19. Kaya M. Distance Education Systems Used in Universities of Turkey and Northern Cyprus. Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences. 2012; 31: 676–680.
  • 20. Cheung K. S. A Comparison of WebCT, Blackboard and Moodle for the Teaching and Learning of Continuing Education Courses. Enhancing Learning through Technology International Conference on ICT in Teaching and Learning. 2006; 1:219?228. DOI: 10.1142/9789812772725_0018
  • 21. Kastelic M., Lončarič T. A Model of Introducing e‐Learning System at Vocational College for Business Secretaries. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology. 2007, 4: 175–187.
  • 22. Cole J. R., Foster H. Using Moodle: Teaching with the Popular Open Source Course Management System. 2nd ed. O'Reilly Media, USA. 2007.
  • 23. Man K. Open‐Source LMS: Beyond Moodle. Keemanxp.com. [Internet]. 2009. Available from: http://keemanxp.com/blog/2009/open‐source‐lms‐beyond‐moodle.html .
  • 24. Gedda R. 10 Open Source e‐Learning Projects to Watch—Choices for e‐Learning the Best Option. TechWorld Australia. [Internet]. 2008. Available from: http://www.techworld.com.au/article/223565/10_open_source_e‐learning_projects_watch/?pp=3 [Accessed: 2016‐07‐01]
  • 25. Cavus N., Zabadi T. A Comparison of Open Source Learning Management Systems. Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2014; 143: 521–526.

© 2016 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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This chapter presents the different literature and studies both foreign and local which have significantly guided the researcher to the development of the theoretical foundation of this study. Foreign Literature According to Carry (1994), " the modular approach uses programmed materials which are carefully organized in a logical sequence through which the learner advances at his own pace, with each of his responses confirmed or corrected immediately. Robinson (1992) stated that individualized instruction and assessment are closely associated with the concept of mastery learning when most students master objectives at uniformly high level. It is a component of systematic instruction which is concerned with understanding, improving and applying learned principles at given time. On the individual instruction, which is a strategy in the modular approach, Lewis (1993) has started individual uniqueness, which is the extent to which persons in the group are similar to one another, is measured by thinking of it as collective expression of Individualized learning. Creager (1996) enumerated several advantages of the used of instructional materials using the modular approach which are as follows: (1) Self-instructional units allows the teacher to focus on the students' deficiencies subject matter that must be corrected; (2) Serve to eliminate the necessity of covering subject matter already known to the students; and (3) Provide a way of assessing the student's progress in learning.

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This study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of the modular instruction modality of Central Philippines State University in the lens of students. This study employed a descriptive study with 376 respondents obtained through stratified sampling. The study determined the student's demographic profile, extent, and level of effectiveness of modular instruction in clarity, constructive alignment, and content, and significant difference in extent and level of effectiveness of modular instruction modality when grouped to students' demographic profile. The study's respondents were the first-year and second-year students of ten campuses of CPSU who were enrolled in the school year 2020-2021. The level of effectiveness of modular learning in three areas was effective. There was a significant difference in the extent of modular learning in the three areas. In contrast, content showed a significant difference when grouped according to respondents' sex and campus. The same result was obtained regarding clarity when grouped according to respondents' course but not in terms of constructive alignment and content. However, when grouped to respondents' age and year level, the extent of modular learning in all aspects showed an insignificant result. There was a significant difference in effectiveness in the three areas when grouped according to campus and sex, except in clarity. However, when grouped according to respondents' age, course, and year level, the level of modular learning in all aspects showed no significant result. A significant relationship between the extent and level of effectiveness of modular instruction modality in all aspects were found.

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This study is conducted to determine the public senior high school learners' assessment on implementing modular learning modality in terms of content and instruction, learning assessment, teacher-learner-parent/guardian collaboration, active and personalized learning, and inclusion. Descriptive-correlational design and stratified proportionate random sampling were utilized. Findings revealed that learners were very satisfied in the implementation of the modular distance learning modality in terms of learning assessment. Transferable skills were also found very challenging. There is no significant difference in the early assessment of the implementation of modular distance learning when grouped according to sex. There is a significant difference in the early assessment of learners in implementing modular distance learning in terms of learning assessment when grouped according to track. No significant difference was found in the early evaluation of the implementation of Modular Distance Learning in terms of content and instruction, teacher-learner-parent/guardian collaboration, active and personalized learning, and inclusion.

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The paper presents the importance of using modules in the language classroom to effect autonomous learning among the language learners. Modular instruction is an alternative instructional design that uses developed instructional materials which are based on the needs of the students. Students are encouraged to work on various activities that are interesting and challenging to maintain focus and attention [1], thereby encouraging independent study. The research discusses the benefits of using modules for instruction such as the acquisition of a better self-study or learning skills among students. Students engaged themselves in learning concepts presented in the module. They developed a sense of responsibility in accomplishing the tasks provided in the module. With little or no assistance from the teacher, the learners progressed on their own. They learned how to learn; they were empowered.

Modular approach, when compared with traditional methods, presents a more flexible learning environment, makes students more active, lets them learn at their own pace by giving them the opportunity of making choices among alternatives, and gives the opportunity of self-evaluation. This study aimed at determining students’ views on the efficiency of modular teaching. The study was conducted at the Faculty of Technical Education in F›rat University. The subjects of the study were the first year students who were enrolled in English course. There are 280 students in the study. It was found that students adopted modular teaching approach, benefited learning packages, found Learning Resources Center as a useful place to study English and gained confidence by using English teaching modules. The students stated that modular teaching should be used in other courses as well.

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The improvement of instruction has been a goal of educators as far back as the teachings of the Greek philosopher Socrates. Although there are a wide variety of approaches, in most cases instruction can be characterized by the following tasks: setting objectives, teaching content based on these objectives, and evaluating performance. This formula is indeed the most common; however, there have been many advocates of alternative approaches. Among the alternative approaches there is a focus on a more individualized approach to instruction, where the traits of the individual learner are given more consideration. Each approach to individualizing instruction is different, but they all seek to manipulate the three following fundamental variables: • Pace: the amount of time given to a student to learn the content • Method: the way that the instruction is structured and managed • Content: the material to be learned

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This study seeks to help the Philippine Educational System reflect on the implementation of the Modular distance learning. The study aimed to indicate the assessment of Modular Distance Learning perceived by Social Studies teacher and School principals of public Secondary Schools in Zone 1 of the division of Zambales regarding module content, module printing, module retrieval and distribution. The teacher-respondent is a Social Studies major, BS degree with Master's units, Teacher I and had been in the service for almost a decade.The principal-respondent is a Social Studies major, masteral degree holders, Principal II and had been in the service for almost two decades. Both the teacher and principal respondent always observe the difficulty on Modular Learning implementation as to the retrieval of printed modules and answer sheets respectively.

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Online Distance Learning: A Literature Review

29 Sep 2020


This week’s blogpost is a guest post by Dr John L. Taylor , Director of Learning, Teaching and Innovation at Cranleigh School .

Dr Taylor is leading a free CIRL professional development webinar on project-based learning, on 17 November from 4-5pm GMT. The link will be available on CIRL’s Eventbrite page soon and the webinar recording will be added to CIRL’s Resources and Professional Development page .

What does the secondary research literature tell us about distance learning?

This blogpost offers a literature review on online distance learning, which is thematically divided into four sections. I first consider what the literature tells us about the efficacy of online distance learning (section 1) and the importance of building a learning community (section 2). I then discuss what the literature says in response to two questions: ‘Does online distance learning work better for some students?’ (section 3) and ‘Can online distance learning support the development of self-regulated learning?’ (section 4).

In this review, the following key terms are defined as follows:

  • Distance learning: a ‘form of education in which the main elements include physical separation of teachers and students during instruction and the use of various technologies to facilitate student-teacher and student-student communication.’ [1]
  • Online learning: ‘education that takes place over the internet’. [2] This can be subdivided into asynchronous online courses that do not take place in real-time and synchronous online courses in which teacher and student interact online simultaneously. [3]
  • Blended learning: a hybrid mode of interaction which combines face-to-face in-person meetings with online interaction. [4] As blended learning is a hybrid model, either the face-to-face or the online elements may be dominant. So, for example, blended learning can occur when online instructional tools are used to support face-to-face learning in a classroom, or when some face-to-face instruction is interspersed with online learning as part of a longer course.
  • A virtual school: ‘an entity approved by a state or governing body that offers courses through distance delivery – most commonly using the internet’. [5]
  • Self-regulated learning: ‘the modulation of affective, cognitive and behavioural processes throughout a learning experience in order to reach a desired level of achievement’. [6] Self-regulating learning skills have been described as abilities such as planning, managing and controlling the learning process. [7] Processes that occur during self-regulated learning include goal setting, metacognition and self-assessment. [8]

1. The Efficacy of Online Distance Learning

That said, there is also evidence of equivalence across a number of outcome measures. A 2004 meta-analysis by Cathy Cavanaugh et al of 116 effect sizes measured across 14 K-12 web-delivered distance learning programmes between 1999 and 2004 found that there was no significant difference in outcomes between virtual and face-to-face schools. [10]

A 2015 study by Heather Kauffmann explored factors predictive of student success and satisfaction with online learning. [11] Kauffmann notes that several studies have found that online learning programmes lead to outcomes that are comparable to those of face-to-face programmes.

VanPortfliet and Anderson note that research into hybrid instruction indicates that students achieve outcomes that match, if not exceed, outcomes from other instructional modalities. In particular, academic achievement by students in hybrid programmes is consistently higher than that of students engaged in purely online programmes. [12]

The ongoing discussion in the literature suggests that it is difficult to draw general conclusions about the efficacy of online learning as such, not least because it constitutes in significant ways a distinctive mode of learning when compared with real-world instruction. It is perhaps better, then, to look more specifically at questions such as the comparative strengths and challenges of moving to virtual schooling, the conditions which need to be in place for it to function well and the manner in which this transition is experienced by learners with different capabilities.

2. The Importance of Building a Learning Community

A helpful summary of research about online learning by Jonathan Beale at CIRL contains an outline of principles concerning successful online distance learning programmes.The summary explores research-based recommendations for effective teaching and learning practices in online and blended environments made by Judith V. Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad in their 2016 work, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips . [13] A central emphasis of these recommendations is that successful online learning depends upon the formation of an online learning community, and this is only possible if there is regular online interaction between teachers and students:

Why is presence so important in the online environment? When faculty actively interact and engage students in a face-to-face classroom, the class evolves as a group and develops intellectual and personal bonds. The same type of community bonding happens in an online setting if the faculty presence is felt consistently. [14]

The significance of relationship building is noted in the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute’s Teacher Guide to Online Learning :

Creating a human-to-human bond with your online students, as well as with their parents/guardians and the student’s local online mentor, is critical in determining student success in your online course. This can be accomplished through effective individual and group communication, encouraging engagement in the course, productive and growth-focused feedback, and multiple opportunities for students to ask questions and learn in a way that is meaningful to them. [15]

Research into virtual learning emphasises the importance of the connection between students and their teachers. This can be lost if there is no ‘live’ contact element at all. As Beale notes, this does not necessarily mean that every lesson needs to include a video meeting, though there is a beneficial psychological impact of knowing that the teacher is still in contact and regular face-to-face online discussions can enable this. There are other forms – a discussion thread which begins during a lesson and is open throughout can perform the same role, though in cases where meeting functions are available, students may be directed to use these rather than email.

As well as the teacher-student relationship, student-student links are important. There is evidence of improved learning when students are asked to share their learning experiences with each other. [16]

Beale’s research summary also emphasizes the importance of a supportive and encouraging online environment. Distance learning is challenging for students and the experience can be frustrating and de-motivating if technology fails (e.g., if work gets lost or a live session cannot be joined due to a connection failure or time-zone difference). More than ever, teachers need to work at providing positive encouragement to their students, praising and rewarding success and acknowledging challenges when they exist. It is also valuable if teachers can identify new skills that students are acquiring – not least skills in problem-solving, using information technology and resilience – and encourage their classes when they see evidence of these.

3. Does online distance learning work better for some students?

Given that, more or less by definition, students participating in an online distance learning programme will be operating with a greater degree of autonomy, it may be expected that those who will be best suited to online learning will be those with the greatest propensity for self-regulated learning. This view is advanced in a review of the literature on virtual schools up until 2009, by Michael Barbour and Thomas Reeves:

The benefits associated with virtual schooling are expanding educational access, providing high-quality learning opportunities, improving student outcomes and skills, allowing for educational choice, and achieving administrative efficiency. However, the research to support these conjectures is limited at best. The challenges associated with virtual schooling include the conclusion that the only students typically successful in online learning environments are those who have independent orientations towards learning, highly motivated by intrinsic sources, and have strong time management, literacy, and technology skills. These characteristics are typically associated with adult learners. This stems from the fact that research into and practice of distance education has typically been targeted to adult learners. [17]

Given the lack of evidence noted by Barbour and Reeves, a more cautious conclusion would be that we may expect to find a relationship between outcomes from online distance learning programmes and the propensity of students for self-regulated learning, rather than the conclusion that this capacity is a precondition of success.

Kauffmann notes that students with the capacity for self-regulated learning tend to achieve better outcomes from online courses. This result is not surprising, given that in online learning more responsibility is placed on the learner. [18]

A 2019 review of 35 studies into online learning by Jacqueline Wong et al explores the connection between online learning and self-regulated learning. The study highlights the significance of supports for self-regulated learning such as the use of prompts or feedback in promoting the development and deployment of strategies for self-regulated learning, leading to better achievement in online learning:

In online learning environments where the instructor presence is low, learners have to make the decisions regarding when to study or how to approach the study materials. Therefore, learners’ ability to self-regulate their own learning becomes a crucial factor in their learning success … [S]upporting self-regulated learning strategies can help learners become better at regulating their learning, which in turn could enhance their learning performance. [19]

In a 2005 study of ‘Virtual High School’ (VHS), the oldest provider of distance learning courses to high school students in the United States, Susan Lowes notes that the VHS’s pedagogical approach ‘emphasizes student-centered teaching; collaborative, problem-based learning; small-group work; and authentic performance-based assessment’. [20] This approach, Lowes comments, is aligned with a growing body of literature on the characteristics of successful online courses.

Taking a more student-centred approach during online instruction fits with features of the online environment. It is natural to make more use of asynchronous assignments and to expect students to take more responsibility for their study, given that they are not subject to direct supervision in a classroom setting and may be accessing course materials outside of a conventional timetable.

4. Can online distance learning support the development of self-regulated learning?

It may be the case that, even if Barbour and Reeves are correct in claiming that only those students with an ‘independent orientation towards learning’typically achieve successful outcomes from online distance learning programmes, a countervailing relationship obtains insofar as participation in an online distance learning programme may foster the development of the propensity for self-regulated learning.

A controlled study in 2018 by Ruchan Uz and Adem Uzun of 167 undergraduate students on a programming language course compared blended learning with a traditional learning environment.  The study found that, for the purpose of developing self-regulated learning skills, blended instruction was more effective than traditional instruction. [21]

In a 2011 review of 55 empirical studies, Matthew Bernacki, Anita Aguilar and James Byrnes noted that research suggests that:

[T]echnologically enhanced learning environments … represent an opportunity for students to build their ability to self-regulate, and for some, leverage their ability to apply self-regulated learning … to acquire knowledge. [22]

Their review suggests that the use of technologically enhanced learning environments can promote self-regulated learning and that such environments are best used by learners who can self-regulate their learning. [23]

However, an investigation by Peter Serdyukov and Robyn Hill into whether online students do learn independently argues that independent learning requires active promotion as well as a desire to promote autonomy on the part of the instructor and the necessary skills and motivation on the part of students. Where these conditions are not met, the aspiration to autonomy is frustrated, which can lead to negative outcomes from the online learning experience. [24]

Bernacki, Aguilar and Brynes employed an Opportunity-Propensity (O-P) framework. The O-P framework was introduced by Brynes and Miller in a 2007 paper exploring the relative importance of predictors of math and science achievement, where it was described as follows:

This framework assumes that high achievement is a function of three categories of factors: (a) opportunity factors (e.g., coursework), (b) propensity factors (e.g., prerequisite skills, motivation), and (c) distal factors (e.g., SES). [25]

It is plausible to suggest that the two-way relationship between self-regulated learning skills and successful participation in an online distance learning programme can be explained in terms of the opportunities online distance learning offers in three areas: first, to develop self-regulated learning skills afforded by the online distance learning environment; second, the prior propensity of learners to self-regulate their learning; and third, changes in distal factors (such as exclusive mediation of learning through online platforms to IT and parental involvement in learning).

Summary of Secondary Research Literature

The following points can be made about online distance learning based on the foregoing review:

  • Successful online learning depends upon the formation of an online learning community. Regular online interaction between teachers and students is important in the development of an online community. Teacher-student and student-student links are part of this.
  • Students with the capacity for self-regulated learning tend to achieve better outcomes from online courses.
  • There is some evidence that online distance learning programmes can be used to help develop self-regulated learning skills. This is provided that both teacher and student are motivated by the goal of building autonomy .
  • There is support in the research literature for using collaborative, problem-based learning and authentic performance-based assessment within online learning programmes.

Coda: review and revise

It is fair to say that the move to an entirely distance learning programme is the single biggest and most rapid change that many educators will ever have had to make. As with any large-scale rapid and fundamental innovation, it is hard to get everything right. We need to be willing to revise and refine. This may mean adapting to use a new software platform across the whole school if problems are found with existing provision, or it may be an adjustment to expectations about lesson length or frequency of feedback. Keeping distance learning programmes under review is also essential as we look towards a possible future in which it will co-exist with face-to-face teaching.

This literature review is an edited version of the literature review in my report, ‘An Investigation of Online Distance Learning at Cranleigh’ , September 2020, which can be downloaded here . In that report, the literature review is used to establish several conclusions about the implementation of online learning programmes. Those findings are compared to trends discernible in the responses to a questionnaire survey of three year groups at Cranleigh School (years 9, 10 and 12). The programme of study for these year groups was designed to provide continuity of delivery of the curriculum, in contrast to the programmes developed for years 11 and 13, where a customised programme of study was developed to bridge the gap created by the withdrawal of national public examinations during the summer term of 2020.

[1] ‘Distance learning | education | Britannica’ .

[2] Joshua Stern, ‘Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning’ .

[3] Fordham University, ‘Types of Online Learning’ .

[5] Michael K. Barbour and Thomas C. Reeves, ‘The reality of virtual schools: A review of the literature’, Computers & Education 52.2 (2009), pp. 402-416.

[6] Maaike A. van Houten‐Schat et al , ‘Self‐regulated learning in the clinical context: a systematic review’, Medical Education 52.10 (2018), pp. 1008-1015.

[7] René F. Kizilcec, Mar Pérez-Sanagustín & Jorge J. Maldonado, ‘Self-regulated learning strategies predict learner behavior and goal attainment in Massive Open Online Courses’, Computers & education 104 (2017), pp. 18-33.

[8] Sofie M. M. Loyens, Joshua Magda and Remy M. J. P. Rikers, ‘Self-directed learning in problem-based learning and its relationships with self-regulated learning’, Educational Psychology Review 20.4 (2008), pp. 411-427.

[9] Paul VanPortfliet and Michael Anderson, ‘Moving from online to hybrid course delivery: Increasing positive student outcomes’, Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching 6.1 (2013), pp. 80-87.

[10] Cathy Cavanaugh et al , ‘The effects of distance education on K-12 student outcomes: A meta-analysis’, Learning Point Associates/North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), 2004.

[11] Heather Kauffman, ‘A review of predictive factors of student success in and satisfaction with online learning’, Research in Learning Technology 23 (2015).

[12] VanPortfliet & Anderson, op. cit., pp 82 – 83 .

[13] Judith V. Boettcher & Rita-Marie Conrad, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (Second Edition; San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2016).

[14] Ibid. Boettcher & Conrad’s chapter is reprinted with permission in this article , from which the quotation is taken.

[15] Michigan Virtual’s ‘Teacher Guide to Online Learning’ .

[16] Joan Van Tassel & Joseph Schmitz, ‘Enhancing learning in the virtual classroom’, Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching 6.1 (2013), pp. 37-53.

[17] Michael K. Barbour & Thomas C. Reeves, ‘The reality of virtual schools: A review of the literature’, Computers & Education 52.2 (2009), pp. 402-416.

[18] Heather Kauffman, ‘A review of predictive factors of student success in and satisfaction with online learning’, Research in Learning Technology 23 (2015).

[19] Jacqueline Wong et al , ‘Supporting self-regulated learning in online learning environments and MOOCs: A systematic review’, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction 35.4-5 (2019), pp. 356-373.

[20] ‘Online Teaching and Classroom Change – CiteSeerX’ .

[21] Ruchan Uz & Adem Uzun, ‘The Influence of Blended Learning Environment on Self-Regulated and Self-Directed Learning Skills of Learners’, European Journal of Educational Research 7.4 (2018), pp. 877-886.

[22] Matthew L. Bernacki, Anita C. Aguilar & James P. Byrnes, ‘Self-regulated learning and technology-enhanced learning environments: An opportunity-propensity analysis’, Fostering self-regulated learning through ICT , IGI Global (2011), pp. 1-26.

[24] Peter Serdyukov & R. Hill, ‘Flying with clipped wings: Are students independent in online college classes’, Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching 6.1 (2013), pp. 52-65.

[25] James P. Byrnes & David C. Miller, ‘The relative importance of predictors of math and science achievement: An opportunity–propensity analysis’, Contemporary Educational Psychology 32.4 (2007), pp. 599-629.

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