Up The Distance
Critical Success Factors
for Internet-Based Learning in Developmental Mathematics
Could the Internet be
part of the solution to the high dropout rate among community
college students in developmental mathematics? That
is what TRO Learning, developers of the popular PLATO computer-based
developmental education courseware, and the League for Innovation
in the Community College explored through a joint research
project called Adding up the Distance. In the fall
of 1999, eight community colleges implemented an Internet-based
mathematics curriculum, developed by PLATO,
as part of their developmental studies programs. The programs
used a variety of structures, ranging from "pure"
distance education to various mixtures of classroom and computer-based
work on campus. This study characterizes the components of
each program and examines the results of student outcomes
and faculty reactions.
of the study was to explore "critical success factors
for computer-based distance learning in developmental math
programs" during the course of two academic semesters.
College participants, League research team members, and PLATO
service teams outlined four areas of investigation:
of effective, individualized, open entry/open exit
programs for developmental students via distance education;
of successful developmental student profiles using distance
of learners' motivation through the use of technology
developmental studies programs using distance education;
combinations of campus-based support service and distance
learning delivery systems as models of success for developmental
The research design included
quantitative and qualitative analysis, and five primary data
sets were collected from 185 students and 20 faculty participants,
at eight different institutions. League Board and Alliance
Florida Community College, FL
Community College, HI
Valley Community College, IL
Community College, FL
Fe Community College, FL
Community College, OH
Project Outcomes and
offered feedback through demographic profiles and surveys.
Indicators of progress and success were also documented through
final grades. Of the 185 (n=) learners participating
in the study, 116 or 62% persisted and successfully completed
their developmental courses.
As an action-based
research project, Adding Up the Distance began by
exploring college administrative processes, instructors, and
students as independent variables of distance learning developmental
math programs. From this study, researchers can conclude that
the relationship between college resources, instructors, and
learners in successful distance learning models is interdependent.
Colleges that were most successful using POI with students
created systemic balance in their distance learning developmental
math programs. They added definition and purpose to the thought
and conjecture surrounding "critical success factors for computer-based
distance learning developmental math programs." In the following
summary, these factors are framed within the four pre-defined
areas of investigation and combined with documented analysis
of research results.
Development of effective, individualized, open entry/open
exit 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 four variables:
1. Easy Access to Internet and Easy Navigational Courseware.
Courseware that makes logon/logout functions and transition
from lesson to lesson as smooth as possible was cited as a
benefit to successful students.
2. Technical Support. Repeatedly, students and faculty asserted
technical support as the factor most important to program
3. Alignment of Online Courseware and Course Objectives. Programs
that correlated course objectives with POI lessons in a meaningful
way and connected assignments and class activities had more
4. Individualized Instructional Format. Students and faculty
noted the self-paced, individualized, anytime/anyplace functions
of distance learning as the best features of the project.
Exploration of successful developmental 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 successful
6. Orientation. Students who attended mandatory group orientations
cited fewer technical problems and greater ease of navigation.
These students also had more successful program outcomes.
Cultivation of learners' motivation through the use
of technology in developmental studies programs using distance
7. Student Connections. Interactive and frequent contact was
concluded as an important condition for success. The more
successful POI programs in this study had structured assignment
schedules and student contact requirements (via Web page,
e-mail, or phone calls) as part of the calendar of course
Effective combinations of campus-based support service
and distance learning delivery systems as models of success
for developmental learners
8. Faculty Development. As noted, faculty participants had
varying levels of experience with technology and computer-based
applications. Those colleges that offered more than five professional
development opportunities correlated with faculty who were
active in attending workshops and conferences created the
more 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, faculty who were
using distance learning as a developmental math option for
the first time also experienced success. From the research
gathered, it is concluded that those faculty members who were
first-time users of distance learning showed great interest
in computer-based applications, self-initiated the learning
curve associated with teaching with technology, and took advantage
of the interactive and mastery-based format of POI courseware.
They closely reviewed POI 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 and Program Support. Participating
colleges that designated priority, support, and commitment
of resources for technical investments to this project clearly
saw successful responses from both faculty and students. Although
transparent in some instances, administrative support was
recognized in this analysis as clearing the way for successful
implementation, program development, and student access leading
to high quality services and learning opportunities for students.
For more specific details
on this study, contact Edward Leach,
Vice President, Services Division, League for Innovation,
or TRO Learning.