A case study undertaken by a pair of Indiana University researchers says more work needs to be done to examine potential shortfalls with online distance learning. The study, based on a real graduate course for foreign language teachers, is not wide-reaching enough to draw concrete conclusions or even generalizations, but its authors say it does point to a serious need for further investigation into web-based distance education.

One of the key issues uncovered in the study was the frustration felt among both students and the instructor regarding the volume of eMail messages they received relating to the course—around 35 per week for students to weed through, more for the instructor. Students also cited problems relating to electronic communications, such as not understanding assignments or the course’s lack of visual clues. Others complained that the professor did not provide enough feedback.

Supporters of distance education say the study uncovered more about the professor’s shortfalls than shortfalls relating to the technology, but its authors disagree. They said their study points to the fact that there are enormous differences between teaching in a traditional classroom and teaching online, and those differences must be addressed by educators.