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PLATO Learning Releases Results of Major Distance Learning Study


'Adding Up the Distance' study completed in conjunction with the League for Innovation in the Community College

BLOOMINGTON, MINN. (June 26, 2000) - It is no secret that many students who enroll in college are unprepared for the academic rigors of college work. The overwhelming numbers indicate that nearly one-half, or 44 percent, of students entering 2-year colleges each year require some form of remediation. The number of students underprepared for college level work is amplified by the variety of developmental learners' needs. The needs and academic plans are clearly not the same for a 40-year-old woman returning to college for job development skills after being out of school for 22 years and an 18-year old high school student who goofed off in math class. Nor are they the same for a student who graduated from an inner-city high school that did not offer advanced algebra classes and a highly skilled math student whose native language is not English. Internet-based learning is increasingly utilized to help these students quickly get up to speed in their courses.

In the spring of 1999, the League for Innovation in the Community College and PLATO Learning initiated a joint research project exploring the questions and challenges of implementing successful distance learning developmental math programs for community colleges across the country. Eight colleges participated in the study and the findings will be released at the Conference on Information Technology, Nov. 15-18 in Anaheim, Calif., as "Adding up the Distance: Critical Success Factors for Internet-based Learning in Developmental Mathematics."

Each year, more than $1 billion is spent to provide remedial services to incoming community college students," said Dr. Rob Foshay, Vice President of Instructional Design and Cognitive Learning at PLATO Learning. "This research project focused on identifying how the Internet, distance learning techniques, and PLATO Learning can work together to more effectively serve the developmental needs of students. This is a significant step in PLATO's ongoing commitment to expand our Internet offerings. Our project partners are national leaders in postsecondary education and we are excited to have had the opportunity to work with them in this effort."

According to Edward Leach, Vice President-Technology Programs at the League for Innovation: "The Internet has opened powerful new doors to education. The League is pleased to have participated in this project to further define the best practices for using online technologies to enhance student success in developmental mathematics."

The project explored "critical success factors" for computer-based distance learning in developmental math programs during a summer trial implementation session and a full fall semester term. Mathematics was chosen because it is the subject area of perhaps widest need in developmental studies, and because its content and measures are relatively well defined. College participants, League research team members, and PLATO service teams worked together in four principal areas of investigation:

Development of effective, individualized, open entry/open exit programs for developmental students via distance education.
Cultivation of learners' motivation through the use of technology in developmental studies programs using distance education.
Exploration of successful developmental student profiles using distance learning technology.
Effective combinations of campus-based support service and distance learning delivery systems as models of success for developmental learners.


The project began by exploring college administration, instructors, and students as independent variables of distance learning developmental math programs and continued with an investigation of best distance learning practices. Extensive data analysis allowed PLATO and League researchers to draw some conclusions about the interdependent relationship of college resources, instructors, and learners in successful distance learning models.

The colleges that were most successful with students created a systemic and connected balance in their distance learning developmental math programs. According to the preliminary project results, the 10 factors that appeared to be most critical to success of these programs are summarized below and will be explained in greater detail within the final "Adding Up the Distance" report.

Development of individualized, open entry/open exit, effective programs for developmental students via distance education.

Beyond the traditional functions of student services and development of course objectives, distance learning services and curriculum should be enhanced to include a more comprehensive plan with the following variables.

1. Easy Access to Internet and Easy Navigational Courseware - Although the majority of students who enrolled in distance learning courses expressed high levels of comfort and expertise with computer-based applications, courseware that makes logon/logout functions and transition from lesson to lesson as smooth as possible was cited as a recognized benefit to successful students.

2. Technical Support - Over and over again technical support (via college helpdesk or program contact) reigned as the most important factor cited by both students and faculty to program success.

3. Alignment of Online Courseware and Course Objectives - Those programs that correlated course objectives with Internet courseware lessons in a meaningful way (whether as supplemental or primary content) and connected assignments and class activities had more successful outcomes than those programs who used the Internet courseware as a drill-and-practice exercise.

4. Individualized Instructional Format - Faculty who used the computer-adaptive components of the Internet courseware management system and offered individualized and targeted assignments for students were recognized more favorably by students. Students and faculty noted the self-paced, individualized, any-time/any-place functions of distance learning as the best features of the project.

Development of successful student profiles using distance learning technology.

5. Student Recruitment and Counseling - Proactive selection, preparation, and counseling with students entering distance learning programs were noted as key variables for success and course completion. Students who demonstrated a sense of motivation, time management, and program/academic goal were more successful in the project.

6. Orientation - Students who attended mandatory group orientations had few technical problems, experienced greater ease of navigation, and had successful program outcomes.

Cultivation of learners' motivation through the use of technology in developmental studies programs using distance education.

7. Student Connections - Interactive and frequent contact was an important condition for success. Although many students appreciated the self-paced and individualized format of the Internet courseware, they were quick to note that when questions or issues were resolved via a Web page contact, email, or phone call, there were higher levels of satisfaction with the course and comfort level with technology. The successful programs in the study had structured assignment schedules with student contact requirements as part of course activities.

Combination of campus-based support service and distance learning delivery systems as models of success for developmental learners.

8. Faculty Development - Faculty participants had varying levels of experience with technology and computer-based applications. Those colleges who offered more than five professional development opportunities correlated with faculty who were active in attending workshops and conferences. The faculty from these colleges created successful programs in this project.

9. High Standards of Quality and Content Development - As might be expected, faculty who had experience with distance learning had successful program outcomes, however in a few instances, faculty who were using distance learning as a developmental math option for the first time were also very successful. From the research data gathered, it is concluded that the "first-time successful faculty" showed great interest in computer-based applications and self-initiated the learning curve of teaching with technology. Rather than tag on a few lessons with existing course assignments, they closely reviewed Internet courseware content and were actively involved in new curriculum development and content upgrade for their courses. They were also very active in seeking technical support and assistance from the PLATO helpdesk and their assigned PLATO educational consultant.

10. College Leadership & Program Support - Participating colleges that designated priority, support, and commitment of resources for technical investments to this project clearly saw successful responses from faculty and students. Although transparent in some instances, administrative support was recognized as clearing the way for successful implementation, program development, and student access leading to high quality services and learning opportunities for students.

"Behind these critical success factors is the hard work, dedication to innovation, and commitment to learning shared by administrators, faculty, and student participants," said Dr. Foshay. "Although the project traced the ideas, progress, and outcomes of students over two short semesters, the need to expand and lead further research efforts in distance learning for developmental education should be part of the investment in our college, community, and country's future. If community colleges are to journey from the place-bound world of classrooms and computer-labs within campus walls to the anytime/anyplace expanse of distance learning, it is imperative that studies like these chart our course and guide our actions towards a destination of knowing," Dr. Foshay concluded.

Participating Colleges
The participating colleges included a considerable diversity of program structure and size. While all participating colleges had well-established campus-based developmental math programs, they had varying degrees of history and experience with technology in their developmental studies programs. The participants included:

Central Florida Community College, Ocala, Florida
Delta College, University Center, Michigan
Kapiolani Community College, Honolulu, Hawaii
Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Moraine Valley Community College, Palos Hills, Illinois
Miami-Dade Community College, Miami, Florida
Santa Fe College, Gainesville, Florida
Sinclair Community College, Dayton, Ohio

League for Innovation in the Community College
The League for Innovation in the Community College, as a nonprofit educational consortium of resourceful community colleges, stimulates experimentation and innovation in all areas of community college development and serves as a catalyst, project incubator, and experimental laboratory for all community colleges. The League for Innovation in the Community College headquarters are located at 1333 South Spectrum Boulevard, Suite 210, Phoenix, Arizona 85048-7690. The telephone is (480) 705-8200. For more information, visit www.league.org.

PLATO Learning
With revenues of over $44 million, PLATO Learning, Inc. is a publicly held company traded as TUTR on the NASDAQ-NMS. Offering more than 2,000 hours and 10,000 learning objectives of comprehensive academic and applied skills courseware designed for adolescents and adults, PLATO Learning Systems are marketed to middle and high schools, colleges, job training programs, correctional institutions, military education programs, corporations, and consumers. PLATO is delivered via networks, CD-ROM, private intranets, and the Internet.

An international training and education company, PLATO Learning's headquarters are located at 10801 Nesbitt Avenue South, Bloomington, Minnesota, 55437. Phone (952) 832-1000 or (800) 869-2000. PLATO Learning has domestic offices located throughout the United States, and international offices in the United Kingdom and throughout Canada. PLATO Learning has international distributors located in Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates. The company's Web site address on the Internet's World Wide Web is www.plato.com