What is ETD?

ETD promotes discussion on low-cost ICT initiatives for educational systems in developing countries. Read More

Join ETD

Become a part of the conversation. Contribute your ideas, strategies and expertise to our discussions. Join Now

What is the Best Blend of Distance Education Variables for Teacher Professional Development?

Alvaro Galvis

There are multiple ways of conceiving and implementing educational systems where students can learn via a basically non-face-to-face interaction with others, the essence of distance education. All of these systems intend to overcome situational barriers that adults might have for learning, but they can differ in several dimensions. A multidimensional set of opportunities are available to offer at-a-distance education, including several continuum, such as the following six:


  1. from “correspondence” instruction (lessons being delivered by using learning objects) to “collaborative” learning units (knowledge being built by interaction among learners who have previously explored and reflected on relevant learning objects),
  2. from content-based learning processes (willing to fill content learning gaps) to problem-based learning processes (willing to find answers to relevant questions),
  3. from synchronous (students and facilitators interact synchronously) to asynchronous learning processes (interaction is time deferred),
  4. from self-contained learning objects (all knowledge is packaged and ready to use) to tutor- or peer-managed curriculum materials (knowledge requires interaction both with materials and co-learners),
  5. from individual (self-managed) learning to social learning (meaning is built via human interaction),
  6. from mono-media to multi-media learning objects (one or more media are needed to learn), and so on.

With the above framework I would like to invite participants to reflect on the type of combinations you have found to be cost-effective in technology-based distance education. My two cents contribution deals with the Concord Consortium eLearning model.

My personal experience applying this model for online and blended teacher professional development through different countries in Latin America has shown that it is expensive to provide this type of collaborative, asynchronous, multimedia-based, facilitated-from-the side, at-a-distance learning experience, and it is worth the effort.

Participants are engaged in unique knowledge-building processes that generate enduring understanding of key ideas; they understand and apply knowledge in regard with relevant challenges, their level of satisfaction is high, as well as the level of transference of methods and means to other educational settings. Feedback collected from multiple participants has confirmed that sound pedagogy and appropriate use of media make the difference.

I invite participants to share other cases where a particular blending of distance education variables has created a coherent and effective approach to teach and learn at-a-distance.

Alvaro Galvis uses Information and Communication Technologies in formal and informal educational settings, with experience in both developed and developing countries. He was a computer science professor at University of Los Andes, a Senior Researcher at the Concord Consortium, and the creator and leader of the Center for Excellence for Teaching and Learning at WSSU. He is currently President of Metacursos SAS, a Colombian consulting firm devoted to helping educational organizations and corporations innovate their educational practices.

Don’t miss a moment of the action!

Subscribe now and get the latest articles from Educational Technology Debate sent directly to your inbox.

5 Responses to “What is the Best Blend of Distance Education Variables for Teacher Professional Development?”

  1. Arnold Ghersi

    Dear Alvaro:
    I would like to suggest that you add to your list "Spaced Learning or Spaced Education".
    Spaced Learning proposes the usage of platforms for reinforcing the studied material at longer intervals of time. The material has previously been "atomized" in little objects. Lessons are created by grouping objects. Every objects includes its own set of questions for evaluating; questions are created depending of the learning objective and the teaching strategy (the author). (Cognitive -Conductive-Constructive-Collaborative-etc.)
    Objects under reviews must be taken before taking new lessons. Students who present more problems have more objects to review, so they need to invest more time to keep the lessons on time.
    Objects with more difficulties will be reviewed with higher frequency.
    The platform tracks every single answer and cumulative reports keeps tutors and teachers permanently informed about weaknesses of each individual.

    Recent studies by Harvard University have found that Spaced Learning or as they called it, Spaced Education, improves the speed of knowledge acquisition (by ~60% compared vs face-to-face environments ), generates long-term retention (by ~95% measured 2 yrs after completing a course), and maximizes the efficiency of the study time (students study exactly what they need – no over study of learned material). (References available upon request)

    Spaced Learning or Spaced Education offers accountability of a continuous evaluation process, and I believe this data potentiate teachers capacities to make them managers of the learning process.

  2. Mary Burns

    Interesting but it seems to effective for propositional knowledge–memorizing facts–versus learning behaviors. Do I have that right? If that is the case, it doesn't get at the ***behaviors ***that are key to HQ teaching. But it is really interesting–I look forward to reading more. Thanks for posting!

    So, Alvaro, which of these models are most effective, in your mind, to "developing" high quality teaching?

  3. Me gusta tener esta oportunidad de conocer otros textos sobre los temas que nos interesan. Me alegra ver las posibilidades de compartir, colaborativamente, algunas experiencias y reflexiones sobre la tarea educativa mediada por el uso de las TIC.

    Podremos avanzar sobre conciliar derechos educativos con derechos de autor?
    Otro tema que me inquieta es el de la tarea de evaluar y los criterios acordados y compartidos sobre esto.
    Y… las comunidades de aprendizaje son guetos o son nodos abiertos a en la Red?

    • Mary Burns

      Hola María,
      ¿Qué tipo de informaciónes busca en concreto? En términos de derecho de autor para los contenidos en línea, hay que visitar http://creativecommons.org/ y/o http://fairuse.stanford.edu/.

      Hay muchas normas o padrones para el aprendizaje en línea. Un muy buen recurso es la organizacion estadounidense, iNACOL, (inacol.org) que se ha desarrollado normas para instruir en la línea, el desarrollo del contenido en línea, y mas.
      Espero que mis palabras se han referido a sus preguntas (y mis disculpas por mi español). Alvaro será mucho mejor al responder.


  4. Alvaro:
    I think the biggest consideration for teacher professional development is the real reason that TPD is offered. I believe, to often, TPD is offered because someone says it's important, forgetting the ultimate objective for TPD is to improve student learning, not teacher learning. (It can be teacher learning, as long as that's connected to improving student learning.)

    Given that, then the focus of the TPD should be to address the "gaps" or problems in student achievement, and the instructional cause. That means different approaches to TPD depending on the diagnosis and desired impact on the instructional approach. I think your listing of 6, 7 if you add Arnold's, might be more useful if arrayed against the types of skills where they can be the most effective.

    Of course, I think that's really a content issue and the pedagogy for effective TPD is another variable. (e.g. self-paced TPD might be more effective for providing information, while a "Concord Model" course more effective for conveying deeper conceptual undertstanding, and something closer to the Concord Seeing Math model when presenting specific instructional approaches to be modeled. [I know I've gone in a different direction than you were asking, but then you invited me into the conversation.]

    BTW, Alese and I have updated the Concord Model. We feel it's dated, and doesn't reflect all we've learned since we created that model.

    And I'll need to access this site from my PC — I'm on my iPad now — so I can get the previous discussion translated.


Subscribe to ETD

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner