Barriers to Distance Education

Principal Investigator:

Zane L. Berge, Ph.D.

Berge, Z.L. & Muilenburg, L.Y. (2003). Barriers to distance education: Perceptions of K-12 educators. Proceedings of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference. Albuquerque, New Mexico USA, March 24-29. Issue 1, pp. 256-259.

Instructional-use computers are continuing to migrate into the classrooms, with public schools reporting over half the installed base now located in classrooms. Still, education struggles with the rapid expansion of technology. This article reports on findings from a survey (n=2504) of respondents working in elementary, middle, and secondary schools (n=159). The survey concerns barriers perceived in distance education and is based on prior research involving content analyses of the case studies along with an extensive review of the literature. Demographic data about the respondents is reported for job functions, delivery systems, individual expertise in distance education, and organizational capabilities regarding distance education. Perceptions of these respondents concerning barriers to distance education reported, along with comparisons to respondents not working in K-12.

Berge, Z.L., Muilenburg, L.Y., and Haneghan, J.V. (2002). Barriers to distance education and training: Survey results. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 3(4), pp: 409-418.

A survey (n=2504) was conducted to help better understand and more systematically study the barriers to distance training and education. This study supplies evidence of not only what barriers there are in distance education, but the priority given to them by various stakeholders and at different stages of organizational maturity regarding distance education and training. Implications include:

  1. recognition that it is common for the perceived barriers to be greater in the initial stages of organizational maturity in distance education and training, and
  2. it should be expected that the ranking of which obstacles are most important to solve will change as distance training and education within the organization becomes mission-critical.

Cho, S.K. & Berge, Z.L. (2002). Overcoming Barriers to Distance Training and Education. Education at a Distance [USDLA Journal] (16)1. Retrieved February 8, 2002 from

When people within an organization plan for using distance training and education, there are several barriers to their efforts that they are likely to encounter. Consideration of barriers faced by other organizations may help leaders find solutions to reduce or to minimize obstacles in their own organization. Using a content analysis of thirty-two, in-depth case studies of leading organizations, this study begins to explore solutions to the barriers faced by organizations when they use distance education.

Berge, Z.L. & Muilenburg, L.Y. (2001). Obstacles faced at various stages of capability regarding distance education in institutions of higher learning. Tech Trends 46(4): pp. 40-45.

While distance education is on a fast growth curve right now, there are many barriers that must be overcome. The results reported here are from persons working in higher education (n=1276). The perspective taken is that various organizations are at different stages or levels of capabilities with regard to distance education-from never using distance education to other organizations in which distance education is how they do business.

The research questions reported on in this article are:

  1. do educators perceive different barriers depending upon the maturity of their organization’s capabilities in distance education, and

  2. as the organization’ distance education competency as a whole matures, will the overall number or intensity of perceived barriers to distance education be reduced? There are additional observations included.

Muilenburg, L.Y. and Berge, Z.L. (2001). Barriers to distance education: A factor-analytic study. The American Journal of Distance Education. 15(2): 7-22.

While numerous studies have discussed barriers to the successful implementation of distance education, many are based on the examination of one instructor’s experience, one distance learning environment, or one type of distance learning program. The findings provide useful information, but it is difficult to piece these studies together to create a holistic picture of the barriers to distance education.

Some quantitative studies have been conducted (Berge 1998; Cegles 1998; Dickinson et al. 1999; Rockwell et al. 1999; Yap 1996), but they tap a small or very focused population group. A larger-scale study was still needed to consider simultaneously the many dimensions of barriers to distance education as perceived by people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

The survey study reported in the following presentations and articles sought to represent the perceptions of people who differed on six demographic variables: (1) workplace (e.g., community college, government, nonprofit organization, K–12 education); (2) job function (e.g., support staff, manager, researcher, student); (3) type of delivery system used (e.g., audiotape, computer conferencing, interactive television [ITV]); (4) expertise regarding distance education; (5) the stage of the respondent’s organization with regard to capabilities in delivering distance education (from no distance education activity to distance education being the way the organization does business); and (6) the area in which the respondent primarily works (e.g., fine arts, engineering, education). These studies represent the responses of over 2500 persons.

Berge, Z.L. and Muilenburg L.Y. (2000). Barriers to distance education as perceived by managers and administrators: Results of a survey. In Melanie Clay (Ed.), Distance Learning Administration Annual 2000.

A survey was conducted to help better understand and more systematically study barriers to distance education. The survey addressed six demographic variables: 1) work place (e.g., community college, government); 2) job function (e.g., support staff; manager, researcher, student); 3) type of delivery system used (e.g., audio-tape, computer conferencing, ITV); 4) expertise of the individual regarding distance education; 5) the stage of the respondents organization with regard to capabilities in delivering distance education; and 6) the area in which the respondent primarily works (e.g., fine arts, engineering, education). The focus of this presentation is on barriers to distance education as perceived by managers and administrators.

Berge, Z.L. & Mrozowski, S. (1999) Barriers to Online Teaching in Elementary, Secondary, And Teacher Education. Canadian Journal of Educational Communication, 27(2): 59-72.

A review of the literature regarding the barriers to the use of educational technology in primary and secondary education was conducted. An emphasis was placed on the diffusion of computers in the schools, since the focus of this study is to determine what should be expected as computer-mediated communication (CMC) is used in schools to teach in online environments. A categorical framework, similar to one used by the first author for analysis of barriers to the use of CMC in higher education, was used (Berge, 1998).

The nine categories of barriers are: academic, fiscal, geographic, governance, labor-management, legal, student support, technical, and cultural. The literature review of barriers to the use of educational technology in K-12 using this framework suggested the primary areas of concern are academic, cultural, and technical. Secondary areas of concern are labor-management and fiscal issues, with little or no mention of geographic, governance, student support, or legal aspects of diffusion of technology.

To test whether the use of CMC as one important area of educational technology entering K-12 teaching and learning, a recently published four volume series of books titled, “Wired Together: Computer-Mediated Communication in K-12” was analyzed. Taken together, the seventy-two (72) chapters in these four books, mostly case studies, represent a considerable body of experience in online teaching and learning in K-12, pre- and in-service teacher training.

This content analysis was conducted:

  1. to determine how many different barriers to online teaching were mentioned across all the contributors, i.e., to indicate the range of the obstacles, and,
  2. to determine how often each particular category of barriers was mentioned, i.e., to indicate the perceived severity of these issues. The results are quite consistent when compared to the more general review of literature regarding educational technology.

Berge, Z.L. (1998). Barriers to online teaching in post-secondary institutions. Online Journal of Distance Education Administration. 1(2). Summer. Retrieved October 25, 2010 from

Combined with demographic trends, political forces, economic factors, the need for lifelong learning, and the changing emphases in teaching and learning, there is a resurgence of interest in distance education both at traditional institutions of higher education and in organizations whose sole mission is distance education. Can higher education at “traditional” universities change to meet the new student demands and the intense competition among education providers that distance education brings?