Distance Learning in Postsecondary Career and Technical Education

Publication October 2003

While the number of nontraditional CTE programs offered through distance learning may still be small, “that number is increasing—a trend that should benefit both the students and the workplace of tomorrow” (Reese, 2002, p. 24). Lever-Duffy, Lemke, and Johnson (1996) compiled examples of model community college distance learning programs and concluded that distance education, while “once a fringe methodology, is fast becoming a fundamental methodology for the Information Age institution” (p. vii). In a 3-year trend study of the 700 member colleges of the League for Innovation in the Community College, Milliron and Miles (2000) identified expected trends for instructional technologies and distance learning in community colleges. All of the participating schools agreed that the trend towards the use of information technology in instruction would increase over the next 3 to 5 years, and fewer than 15% expected that the trend towards distance learning would decrease. According to the Campus Computing Survey, 74% of community colleges now offer online courses to students (Green, 2000). A recent study by the Florida State Board of Community Colleges (2000) gathered data about the use of distance courses—specifically those offered through two-way interactive video and the Internet. The overall goal of the study was to determine how students appreciate the access and convenience of distance learning courses and their willingness to adapt to the technology. Five hundred and fifty-five students, representing 18 Florida community colleges, who were enrolled in 113 different distance courses, responded to an online survey. The respondents were asked their reasons for enrolling in online distance learning courses. Forty-seven percent of the respondents indicated they would not have been able to take the course if it had not been offered via distance learning. Eighty-seven percent also indicated that convenience in accommodating work, family, or competing demands was a reason for taking the course.

One outcome of a recent needs sensing activity conducted by the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education was the degree of importance assigned to technology and distance education by practitioners in the field (Lewis, 2001). This project used conference calls and online technology to solicit feedback from teacher educators, state-level secondary education representatives, and tribal/racial/ethnic networks regarding the critical issues facing CTE. Listed among the most highly rated needs for the field was the growing importance of technology and distance learning. Most of the comments provided by the participants highlighted the need to prepare instructors to use technology to enhance instruction in the classroom and through distance education.

Statement of the Problem

In spite of the rapid growth in distance learning, due primarily to the popularity of web-based instruction, there is limited understanding of the scope and impact of distance learning on postsecondary CTE. The primary purpose of this study was to determine the current status and future trends associated with distance learning in postsecondary CTE. To accomplish this purpose, a national study was conducted to answer the following research questions:

  1. How prominent is distance education in postsecondary CTE?
  2. What are the institutional drivers and desired outcomes of distance education in postsecondary CTE?
  3. Which institutions and students participate in postsecondary CTE distance courses and programs?
  4. What types of technologies are used to deliver postsecondary CTE distance courses? 


This study involved a descriptive analysis of the status of distance learning in postsecondary CTE programs. A nationally representative sample of community colleges was asked to participate in the research to answer questions addressing the prevalence of distance learning in postsecondary CTE. 

Johnson, S. D., & Benson, A. D. (2003, October). Distance learning in postsecondary career and technical education. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.

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