Connecting Learners in Self-Paced Undergraduate Study: Practitioner Cases
Thiessen, Janice K.
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Enabling students to take responsibility for and make choices about aspects of their learning is an important affordance of distance education. Distance learners determine the time and place for their studies—those engaged in self-paced study may also choose the rate at which they proceed through their courses. Self-paced study at a distance provides learners with opportunities for increased independence and self-direction, while offering educators the potential to reach large audiences and reduce per student costs. However, in the absence of cohorts working through courses together, it is difficult to incorporate purposeful learner-learner interaction into self-paced study. This challenge exemplifies the tension inherent in the theoretical divide between independence and interaction. This session, of interest to distance education professionals and faculty, presented preliminary results of a multiple-case study of learner-learner interaction in three universities that offer self-paced undergraduate study at a distance. Session participants learned about case-specific issues and strategies of how and why course developers (learning/teaching specialists and faculty) deal with the challenges of incorporating such interaction into self-paced study at a distance, including the ways in which social software is providing opportunities for self-paced learners to interact. Participants also reflected on the ways their own practice acknowledges and addresses the importance of both learner interaction and independence.