Research Report: Distance Education as a Means for Graduate Education – a Study of Two Student Groups

February 18, 2002



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Fred R. McFarlane,


Phone: (619) 594-4228

Fax: (619) 594-4208


McFarlane is Professor and Co-Director of the Interwork Institute at San

Diego State University. His vision and leadership skills, along with those

of Dr. Ian Pumpian, led in 1990 to the creation of the Interwork Institute—an

umbrella organization that houses many diverse rehabilitation and education

efforts, including a Masters Program in Rehabilitation Counseling that

has been ranked 8th in the nation by US News & World Report.


McFarlane specializes in the following continuing education content areas:

leadership, organizational development, program development, communication

skills, ethics, and public policy. He has published over 50 publications

in referred journals, monographs, and book chapters, with a current focus

on public policy, personnel development, and distance education. He is

much sought-after as a rehabilitation professional, academic advisor,

vocational expert and personal and professional mentor.


1996, Dr. McFarlane has served as Chair of the Commission on Work and

Employment for Rehabilitation International. He is an internationally

respected consultant who has presented over 130 lectures and speeches

at local, state, regional, national and international conferences and

seminars on topics ranging from post-employment training to performance

management, and from ADA issues to disability management. He has presented

throughout Europe, in Brazil, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Thailand,

New Zealand, and the Pacific Basin.


McFarlane graduated with his Ph.D. in 1972 from the University of Georgia.

After graduation he accepted the position of professor and administrator

of the Rehabilitation Education Program at SDSU, and was elected as Chair

in 1985. He is currently being honored with the "Alumni Association

Award for Outstanding Faculty Contributions to the University" (2001-02

academic year), and he has been listed in the "International Dictionary

of Who’s Who," "Who’s Who in American Education," and "Who’s

Who of Emerging Leaders in America." He has been a member of the

National Council of Rehabilitation Education since 1973, and in July of

2001 served as Co-Chair at the International Employment Policy Think Tank

Conference, Rehabilitation International, held in Houston, Texas.


McFarlane is currently focusing efforts on advancing the concepts and

principles of "universal design"—a mainstream approach

to the process of designing and creating environments, products and services

that are usable, to the greatest extent possible by most people throughout

their lifetime, regardless of their age or ability. His vision and imminent

goal is to establish community and university partnerships to fund, design

and construct a new building on the SDSU campus that incorporates the

principles of universal design. The proposed facility would house Interwork

Institute programs, projects and staff, as well as selected community,

state, and university programs.


building will serve as a model for architects, builders and product manufacturers

to learn and experiment with universal design, and will assist manufacturers

to design and test new products to insure accessibility. The building

will have demonstration areas for persons with disabilities to experiment

with accessible products and services, and will house design, research,

education and training for all aspects of universal design.


is wonderful to be in on the creation of something, see it used, and then

walk away and smile at it."

Lady Bird Johnson


R. McFarlane, Ph. D., Annemiek Baars, Boukje Stevens, and Michelle Warn, M.A.


emerging use of distance technologies expands opportunities for adult learners

to acquire academic credentials and continue their own professional development. 

The technological capacity exists to deliver skill training via distance education. 

The burgeoning growth of the Internet and the advances in various technologies

such as videoconferencing, streaming audio and video and other variations in

the delivery of educational experiences has opened numerous possibilities for

adult learners.  The technology exists to meet the educational needs of

adult learners.  The question is can we replicate the human interaction,

support, and consultation that are available in traditional university campuses. 

Even more basic, how critical do the learners value these elements of traditional

on-campus education.


is an extensive demand to expand the educational options for persons who wish

to pursue academic degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level.  

This demand is especially true for persons who live in communities where there

is no access to traditional four-year institutions of higher education or the

specific degree and/or credential is not readily available.  Numerous professions

are requiring specialized academic credentials and require that employed persons

return for formal degrees. Finally, numerous individuals live in remote communities

who want to upgrade their academic credentials but are unable to leave their

positions, their family and their community.


The study focused on two groups of graduate students who completed their

degrees through distance education.  There were variations in the delivery

methods to accommodate the learning, personal and professional needs of the

students.  Two graduate students in Rehabilitation Science from the Maastricht

University under the supervision of a professor at San Diego State University

and a professor in Maastricht completed the data gathering and the preliminary

analysis.  The focus of the research was to assess their perceptions of

distance education using the Dimensions of Distance Education instrument developed

by Harrison and Saba (1992).  The following describes the two student groups,

the research protocol and the methodology of data gathering.


Student Groups: Two groups of students – adult learners – participated in

a graduate degree program using two approaches to distance education. 

In both groups they did not attend any instruction on the University campus. 

Each individual in each group met the same standards for admission, matriculation,

and graduation as the traditional on-campus students.  The on-campus standards

were maintained for the individual courses.


1 was a cohort of 36 individuals who resided in California and pursued a 60

semester unit graduate degree leading to a Master of Science in Rehabilitation

Counseling.  Of the 36 individuals who began the graduate degree, 27 completed

the degree in 33 months.  The instruction used a facilitated model of distance

education where the primary method of communication was the Internet with extensive

support through other distance education technologies.  There were limited

face-to-face sessions in selected locations throughout the State.  All

students were employed as practicing rehabilitation counselors with a State

Agency (the California department of Rehabilitation) and entered the degree

program with full support from their employer but no reduction in work demands.


2 was a cohort of 26 individuals who resided in the Commonwealth of the Northern

Marianas.  All of the individuals were employed in the Commonwealth and

participated in the degree program based on their desire to upgrade their academic

qualifications.  These individuals pursued a 30-semester unit graduate

degree leading to a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Educational

Leadership.  Of the 26 who began the program, 25 completed the degree in

24 months.  The individuals had varying support from their respective employers,

which ranged from none to support for tuition and fees and time-off for the

course requirements.  The University faculty member traveled to the Commonwealth

for concentrated periods of instruction ranging from one to three weeks. 

In the interim periods, support was provided through the Internet, telephone,

mail, and fax.


common characteristics between the two groups included the following factors:

  • All

    were pursuing a graduate degree to increase their professional credentials;

  • All

    were enrolled in the degree program through the University;

  • All

    enrolled in the degree program based on their own interest;

  • More

    than one-half of each group of students were female,

  • At

    the time of admission all students were employed in positions directly related

    to their respective educational program (i.e., rehabilitation and education);


were encouraged to use their employment setting for application of the theories

and academic requirements.



Harrison and Saba (1992) developed the assessment instrument – Dimensions of

Distance Education.  They developed the instrument for a specific program

of distance education through San Diego State University.  Before the application

of the instrument, it was revised to update the language to current distance

education and academic language.  In addition, items that were duplicative

and/or outdated due to the changes in distance education were deleted. 

The changes resulted in a reduction of items from 97 to 74.  The instrument

has four major categories:

  1. Instruction

    (includes sub-categories of Student Professor Interaction, Student Peer Support,

    Logistics, and Delivery/System/Methodology for a total of 34 items);

  2. Management

    (includes categories of Distance Education Support Staff Responsiveness, Technology,

    Planning and Course Offerings, and Communication for a total of 22 items);

  3. Distance

    Education (includes Cost, Unique Features of Distance Learning, and Content

    for a total of 8 items) a

  4. Support

    (includes Support from Upper Management and Support of Program for 8 items).


are two measures of assessment for each item.  The first measure is a Lickert

Scale requesting that the student indicate a response, which reflects a range

from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree.  The section measure is a response

to the Importance of the item to “how important you feel the item is to the

overall quality of the distance education program”.  This measure rates

High Importance, Medium Importance, and Low Importance.  As an illustration

the following is a restatement of item I (within category 1 – Instruction and

subcategory I – Student Professor Interaction):


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