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Editor’s Note: Book reviews are helpful for those who make decisions for selecting course textbooks or seek a guide for their professional reading. Muhammad Betz provides a relevant and scholarly review on a recent book in distance education.

Distance Education: A Systems View

A Book Review by Muhammad K. Betz

Book Details

Distance Education: A Systems View, 2nd edition
Michael Moore and Greg Kearsley
xxii + 368 pages  Year 2005
ISBN 0-534-50688-7

Make no mistake about it, this book is a text book, and unlike its preceding first edition published in 1996, this second edition is but one text book on the topic of Distance Education among many available in the year 2005.  Other recent texts on this topic include: Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education by Michael Simonson, Sharon Smaldino, Michael Albright, and Susan Zvacek (2003); and Online Learning: Concepts, Strategies, and Applications by Nada Dabbagh and Brenda Bannan-Ritland (2005).  These three textbooks have similar looking Tables of Contents (see Figure 1, Tables of Contents from Three Related Texts).

Table 1
Tables of Contents from Three Related Texts

Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education, Simonson, et al.

Online Learning: Concepts, Strategies, and Applications,
Dabbagh, et al.

Distance Education: A Systems View, 2nd edition,
Moore & Kearsley

Foundations of Distance Education (DE)

What is Online Learning (OL)?

Basic Concepts

Definitions, History, Theories of DE

Roles and Competencies of Online Learner & Instructor

Historical Context

Research and DE

Research on OL

Scope of DE

DE Technologies

Integrative Learning Design Framework for OL

Technologies and Media

Copyright and DE

Constructivist Models OL

Course Design & Development

DE Student

Instructional Strategies, Authentic Learning & OL

Teaching & Roles of Instructor

Teaching at Distance

Evaluation of OL

The DE Student

Handouts, Study Guides, Visuals

Authoring Tools: Paradigms, Usage, Implications

Management, Administration, Policy

DE, the WWW, and Internet

Course Management Systems

Theory & Scholarship of DE

Assessing for DE


Research and Studies of Effectiveness

Evaluating Teaching/Learning at Distance


Global Span of DE

DE Is About Change

In analyzing the list of topics covered by these three text books, Distance Education: A Systems View, 2nd Edition, differs in three areas: Course Design and Development; Management, Administration, and Policy; and The Global Span of Distance Education.

Clearly, this text by Michael Moore and Greg Kearsley reflects the perspective of  reputable educators who are “hands-on” practitioners of distance education efforts.

The Chapters

The authors establish two central themes for the entire text in Chapter 1, Basic Concepts.  First, they introduce the concept of a systems view of distance education.  Anyone with an advanced degree in educational or instructional technology can appreciate the fidelity of that emphasis.  This field derives from and is built upon the bedrock of a systemic view of educational processes.  The second motif addressed in Chapter 1 is that distance education is a changing paradigm, one that is perpetually evolving, non-static, and dynamic.  In a word, Distance Education is seen as a vital enterprise.

Chapter two reviews the historical development of distance education in succinct fashion.  The authors identify five generations of DE: correspondence/home, broadcast radio/television, open universities using combined approaches, interactive teleconferencing, and the current generation of online-based classes.  The value of this chapter lies in its conceptual clarity and accuracy.

The third chapter, The Scope of Distance Education, describes the many current forms of DE in the United States and summarizes the main characteristics of them.  The identified list of DE formats include: home study, independent study, open universities, interactive television, and online learning.  This text clarifies how these forms are relevant at present, thus avoiding the errors of other texts which have a tendency to stray outside of temporal realties, mixing the past and the present in irrelevant ways.

Selection of media or channels of communication for the delivery of education at a distance is the focus of Chapter Four, Technologies and Media.  The authors note that there is not a definitively correct technology for DE, but credit print technologies as the most common, noting different print formats and their limitations.  It is suggested that the selection of media should be done based upon a systemic view of DE, while emphasizing a preference for multiple media formats based upon analyses of audience, content and design considerations.

Chapter 5, Course Design and Development is a break-away chapter for this text.  In it, the authors show their combined strengths as premier educators in the field.  They steer the conceptual view of Distance Education to the tried and true modus operandi of Instructional Systems Design.  This chapter serves as comprehensive, practical guide for creating and conducting a DE class, in different media formats.

In Chapter 6, Teaching and the Roles of the Instructor, the authors introduce and explain how DE changes the traditional roles of the instructor.  It explores the social context of online learning and considerations of examination security, for example.  Quality training for distance teaching is recommended to include: hands-on practice with the technologies; practice for humanizing a DE course; and practice for facilitating student interaction in the distance mode.

The seventh chapter, The Distance Education Student, emphasizes the probability that distance learners are more likely to be adult learners, while focusing on theme of ensuring student success and completion.  The distance student is considered from the point of view of relevant research on attitudes and support needs, with the authors identifying the five critical points of support: orientation and admissions; ongoing assistance; study skills; problem solving; and peer relations.

Chapter 8, Management, Administration, and Policy, showcases another strength of the authors’ experience-based expertise in providing a step-by-step protocol for conducting DE, from a managerial point of view.  The topics of strategic planning, staffing, administrative issues, and quality assurance are addressed as practical matters warranting clear strategies.  Further, the topics of policies and their influences on DE are considered.  Throughout this chapter the authors successfully tie theoretical points to real world situations.

The next two chapters, Chapter 9, The Theory and Scholarship of Distance Education, and Chapter 10, Research and Studies of Effectiveness, are more traditional chapters in such textbooks.  They are nonetheless well written and full of valuable information.  There is present in these chapters an overarching strategy for the presentation of theories and research that is consistent with the systems view of DE and the goal of optimizing its practical application.  The chapter of research revisits the conceptual vantage points introduced in previous chapters and identifies pertinent research efforts that indicate best practices.

In the eleventh chapter, The Global Span of Distance Education, the authors impress upon the readers that DE is everywhere!  While stating that DE is present in some form in almost every country, this text issues a caveat related to the glaring discrepancies between technological have and have-not countries.  Regardless, this global account provides an accurate report of the various efforts in DE based upon major, geographical regions of the world, emphasizing the genuine importance of developing a world view of DE.

The last chapter, Distance Education Is about Change, reinforces the major motif that DE today is not the same as DE was in the past or what it will be in the future.  Changes in information and technology are highlighted as the primary driving forces for perpetual change in the field.  Further, evolving organizational structures and threats of commercial denigrations are discussed.

In Sum

This text is excellent in that it relates a contemporary view of Distance Education to Instructional Systems Design.  It is in some ways a manual for creating and administering DE courses with an important element of academic integrity evidenced throughout.  The authors’ reputations and are fully realized in this effort.


Dabbagh, N., & Bannan-Ritland, B.  (2005).  Online learning: Concepts, strategies, and application.  Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.  Pp. xix + 348. 

Moore, M., & Kearsely, G.  (2005).  Distance education: A systems view, 2nd edition.  Thomson/Wadsworth.  Pp. xxii + 368.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S.  (2003).  Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education, second edition.  Merrill Prentice Hall.  Pp. xvii + 302.

About the Reviewer

Muhammad K. Betz

Muhammad K. Betz is Professor and Departmental Chair of Educational Instruction and Leadership at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He is also a member of the Faculty and a Faculty Mentor at the University of Phoenix Online, where he has taught and/or mentored over one hundred online courses for graduate credit. His degrees in field are: B.S., Ball State University; M. Ed. and Ph.D., University of Texas-Austin.

His specialty areas include Instructional Technology, Curriculum and Instruction, and Teacher Education.


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