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Distance Education... Distance Education... Distance Education...

ADEC Guiding Principles for Distance Teaching and Learning

Basic Assumptions

  • The principles that lend themselves to quality face-to-face learning environments are often similar to those found in web-based learning environments.

  • With all forms of media converging to a digital platform, advanced educational technology may include a variety of learning environments and information appliances.

  • While rapidly emerging technologies offer unlimited potential for virtual learning environments for both face-to-face as well as distance learners, practical application of existing technologies may often prove highly effective for various audiences and objectives.

The following principles are intended to serve as guidelines for identifying and evaluating web-based courses and non-formal educational programs. Web-based learning environments may be designed for distance as well as face-to-face students. Other relevant guidelines for support services and administrative policies are included on the ADEC web site and on the back of the ADEC folder in hardcopy.


  • The learning experience must have a clear purpose with tightly focused outcomes and objectives.

    Web-based learning designs must consider the nature of content, specific context, desired learning outcomes and characteristics of the learner. Learner-centered strategies include modular, stand-alone units that are compatible with short bursts of learning. Learning modules may also be open, flexible and self-directing.

  • The learner is actively engaged.

    Active, hands-on, concrete experiences are highly effective. Learning by doing, analogy and assimilation are increasingly important pedagogical forms. Where possible, learning outcomes should relate to real-life experiences through simulation and application.

  • The learning environment makes appropriate use of a variety of media.

    Various learning styles are best engaged by using a variety of media to achieve learning outcomes. Selection of media may also depend on nature of content, learning goals, access to technology, and the local learning environment.

  • Learning environments must include problem-based as well as knowledge-based learning.

    Problem-based learning involves higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation while knowledge-based learning involves recall, comprehension and application.

  • Learning experiences should support interaction and the development of communities of interest.

    Learning is social and sensitive to context. Learning experiences based on interaction and collaboration support learning communities while building a support network to enhance learning outcomes. Multiple interactions, group collaboration and cooperative learning may provide increased levels of interaction and simulation.

  • The practice of distance learning contributes to the larger social mission of education and training in a democratic society.

    Changing mental models and constructing new knowledge empowers learners and encourages critical thinking. "Knowledge becomes a function of how the individual creates meaning from his or her experiences; it is not a function of what someone else says is true." (Jonassen, 1995)

Characteristics of quality web-based teaching and learning:

  1. Fosters meaning-making, discourse
  2. Moves from knowledge transmission to learner-controlled systems
  3. Provides for reciprocal teaching
  4. Is learner-centered
  5. Encourages active participation, knowledge construction
  6. Based on higher level thinking skills -- analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
  7. Promotes active learning
  8. Allows group collaboration and cooperative learning
  9. Provides multiple levels of interaction
  10. Focuses on real-world, problem solving


     Dede, D. (1996). The evolution of distance education: Emerging technologies and distributed learning. The American Journal of Distance Education, 10(2), 4-36.

     Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Effective Distance Education. A Report of the Faculty Initiative Funded by a grant from the AT&T Foundation. Penn State University, 1997.

     Jonassen, D., Davidson, M., Collins, M., Campbell, J., & Hagg, B.B. (1995). Constructivism and computer-mediated communication. The American Journal of Distance Education, 9(2), 7-26.

     Masie, E. (1997). Advice for designer of online learning -- think small. Technology for Learning.

     Principles of Good Practice for Electronically Offered Academic Degree and Certificate Programs. Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications. 1996.

     Task Force for the American Council on Education and The Alliance: An Association for Alternative Programs for Adults. Guiding Principles for Distance Learning in a Learning Society. 1996.

     Turgeon, A. (1997). Implication of web-based technology for engaging students in a learning society. Journal of Public Service and Outreach, 2(2), 32-37.


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Last Updated: January 30, 2003