Analysis of Communication Barriers to Distance Education

The meaning of the communication in education and distance-learning are best understood, when the types of communication among the participants involved in distance education and some related communication theories are mastered thoroughly. The communication among the students and the communication between the members and the content should not be underestimated even though the communication between the teacher and the student is a vital element of successful distance education. If it is important to attain success in teaching and learning, barriers between the sender and the receiver of the message should be eliminated.

Consequently, all strategies of learning and teaching during the delivery of instruction should not reflect any barrier (Nasseh, 1997). Different types of communication are employed in the network educational environment, such as: • Work in collaboration with a teacher;

• Work in collaboration with other students; • Work in collaboration with online course through a mass media. Telecommunication technologies offer a new scope to the mentioned communication types. They make it possible to travel beyond the physical distance and time.

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Nevertheless, it is essential to investigate communication via telecommunication technologies in detail besides the communication theories related with education, mass media, group interaction, knowledge and skill differences of users, and the preferences and the use ability of the involved members. Human beings need to create effective communication and establish contacts in order to survive. In other words, they need communication to provide connections and create effective understanding, get information and express feelings. Therefore, the effectiveness of the communication is measured by the message sent and feedback received.

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Furthermore, people’s personal, social and economic needs are also affecting communication. Communication is a learnt activity and is provided by the media which forms a bridge between the sender and the receiver (Dimbleby, et al., 1992).

The quality in communication and its effects on people’s lives can be improved once we clarify its meaning and also the meaning of education which is the major concept on which a structured society is based. Communication is a process that includes linear, interactive and transactional views from different perspectives barriers (İşman et al., 2003). One-way communication where the sender cannot get any feedback is the linear view. On the other hand, the interactive view is the existence of a two-way communication which includes feedback as well as nonverbal communication, but it does not include simultaneous sending-receiving feedback that transactional view underlines. Therefore, when creating mutual understanding in communication physical, psychological and semantic barriers are all eliminated. (İşman et al., 2003). As said before, communication is an important element of life. In order to increase productivity at work, organizations and schools should have effective communication. This is more important when it comes to education which is a tool for the welfare of the society.

People socialize via communication and thus perform desired behaviors. Because of these reasons, preventing the barriers in communicating will provide a clearer field of experience between the sender and the receiver. People should find shared points by analyzing our encoding, decoding stages and channel by eliminating our unfairness about the backgrounds in order to create meaningful understanding. There is no perfect communication; this is almost inevitable and creating a qualified communication process is essential to create a permanent understanding especially in the teaching-learning process and establishing reasonable communication to improve meaningful learning of the students. Today, e-learning or distance education are the result of technology. As a result, traditional teaching styles are transformed to technology-based teaching. Distance education is a new trend in education which makes it possible for everyone to learn better and provide options under the constructivist approach.

Technological devices like audio cassette, telephone, compact disc, etc become a major necessity for distance education. Students have a more flexible education opportunity because of distance education. But, on the other hand, lack offace-to-face contact with teachers may result in a loss of motivation. Besides, there are many barriers in teaching and learning process of distance education (Galusha, 2001). Most common barriers are the unawareness of the roles as teachers and students. Studies show that the barriers of distance education fall into such categories as cost, motivators, feedback and teacher contact, student support and services, alienation, lack of experience and training. Moreover, due to the lack of information about their roles in distance education there is faculty and organizational barriers. In addition, course content on the other hand constitutes another barrier and should be modified in distance education (Galusha, 2001).

Therefore, to create effective and qualified distance education all barriers must be realized and eliminated. There are some differences between the types of communication in distance learning and classroom-based learning. Firstly, due to resistance to change and anxiety while engaged in distance education, students and teachers can have psychological problems. Technical barriers during communicating, on the other hand, can be experienced by students and teachers due to a lack of experience about technology and they may have semantic barriers in their communication by misunderstanding announcements (Perreault, et al., 2002). Therefore, it is important to eliminate communication barriers if qualified and effective distance education is aimed at.



For communication to be effective, senders must accurately communicate their intended message, and receivers must perceive and interpret the message accurately. Anything that gets in the way of the accurate transmission and reception of a message is a barrier to effective communication. We should understand these barriers so that you can be aware of their existence and try to reduce their impact. We have identified the elements of communication as the communicator, the encoding, the message, the medium, the decoding, the receiver, and the feedback. If noise exists in these elements in any way, complete clarity of meaning and understanding does not occur. The following barriers to effective communication are: frame of reference, selective listening, value judgments, source credibility, semantic problems, filtering, in-group language, status differences, proxemics behavior, time pressures, and communication overload. These sources of noise can exist in both organizational and interpersonal communications.

Barriers Created by the Sender
There are five specific barriers created by senders of communication.
1.Semantic Problems
Communication has been defined as the transmission of information and understanding through the use of common symbols. Actually, we cannot transmit understanding. We can merely transmit information in the form of words, which are the common symbols. Unfortunately, the same words may mean entirely different things to different people. The understanding is in the receiver, not in the words.

Because different groups use words differently, communication can often be impeded. E.g. When your boss tells you, “We need to complete this project right away,” what does it mean? Does “we” mean just you? You and your coworkers?Or you, your coworkers, and the boss? Does “right away” mean today, tomorrow, or next week? These are examples of semantic barriers. Semantics is the study of words.

Thus, because words mean different things to different people, a communicator may speak the same language as a receiver but still not achieve the intended goal of the communication.
Filtering, a common occurrence in upward communication in organizations, refers to the manipulation of information so that the receiver perceives it as positive. Filtering may involve deleting or delaying negative information or using less harsh words so the message sounds more favorable. For example, subordinates “cover up” unfavorable information in messages to their superiors. The reason for such filtering should be clear; this is the direction (upward) that carries control information to management. Management makes merit evaluations. Grants salary increases, and promotes individuals based on what it receives by way of the upward channel. The temptation to filter is likely to be strong at every level in the organization.

3.In-Group Language
Occupational, professional, and social groups often develop words or phrases that have meaning only to members. Such special language can serve many useful purposes. It can provide members with feelings of belonging, cohesiveness, and (in many cases) self-esteem; it can also facilitate effective communication within the group. The use of in-group language can, however, result in severe communication breakdowns when outsiders or other groups are involved. Management, in this case, should provide communication skills training to affected individuals to facilitate effective communication between involved parties.

4.Status Differences
Organizations often express hierarchical rank through a variety of symbols (titles, offices, etc.). Such status differences can be perceived as threats by persons lower in the hierarchy, and this can prevent or distort communication. For example, not wanting to look incompetent, a nurse may remain quiet instead of expressing an opinion or asking a question of the nursing supervisor.

5.Time Pressures
The pressure of time presents an important barrier to communication. Managers don’t have time to communicate frequently with every subordinate. However, time pressures can often lead to far more serious problems than this. Short-circuiting is a failure of the formally prescribed communication system that often results from time pressures. What it means is simply that someone has been left out of the formal channel of communication who would normally be included.

For example, suppose a salesperson needs a rush order for an important customer and goes directly to the production manager with the request, since the production manager owes the salesperson a favor. Other members of the sales force who get word of this become upset over this preferential treatment and report it to the sales manager. Obviously, the sales manager would know nothing of the “deal” having been short circuited. In some cases, going through formal channels is extremely costly or even impossible from a practical standpoint. Consider the impact on a hospital patient if a nurse had to report a critical malfunction in life support equipment to the nursing team leader, who in turn had to report it to the hospital engineer, who would instruct a staff engineer to make the repair.

Barriers Created by the Receiver
In some situations barriers are created by receivers.

1.Selective Listening
In this form of selective perception, the individual tends to block out new information, especially if it conflicts with existing beliefs. Thus, in a directive from management, the receiver notices only things that reaffirm his beliefs. Things that conflict with preconceived notions are either ignored or distorted to confirm those preconceptions. For example, a notice may be sent to all operating departments that costs must be reduced if the organization is to earn a profit. The communication may not achieve its desired effect because it conflicts with the perceived “reality” of the receivers. Thus, operating employees may ignore or be amused by such information in light of the large salaries, travel allowances, and expense accounts of some executives. Whether such preconceptions are justified is irrelevant; what’s important is that they result in breakdowns in communication. In other words, if we only hear what we want to hear, our “reality” can’t be disturbed.

2.Value Judgments
In every communication situation, the receiver makes value judgments. This basically involves assigning an overall worth to a message prior to receiving the entire communication. Value judgments may be based on the receiver’s evaluation of the communicator, previous experiences with the communicator, or on the message’s anticipated meaning. For example, a college professor, perceiving the department chairperson as not being concerned enough about teaching quality, may consider a merit evaluation meeting with the chairperson as “going through the motions.” A cohesive work group may form negative value judgments concerning all actions by management.

3.Source Credibility
Source credibility is the trust, confidence, and faith that the receiver has in the words and actions of the communicator. The level of credibility that the receiver assigns to the communicator in turn directly affects how the receiver views and reacts to the communicator’s words, ideas, and actions. Thus, subordinates’ evaluation of their manager affects how they view a communication from her. This, of course, is heavily influenced by previous experiences with the manager. Again, we see that everything done by a manager communicates. Union leaders who view management as exploiters and managers who view union leaders as political animals are likely to engage in little honest communication.

Barriers Created by the Sender and/or Receiver
Senders and/or receivers also create barriers in organizational communication. For example, there are three specific types of barriers.

1.Frame of Reference
Different individuals can interpret the same communication differently, depending on previous experiences that result in variations in the encoding and decoding processes. Communication specialists agree that this is the most important factor that breaks down the “commonness” in communications. When the encoding and decoding processes aren’t alike, communication tends to break down. Thus while the communicator actually speaks the “same language” as the receiver, the message conflicts with how the receiver “catalogs” the world. The interior areas represent the accumulated experiences of the participants in the communication process. If they share a large area, effective communication is facilitated. If a large area is not shared – if there has been no common experience – then communication becomes impossible or, at best, highly distorted. Communicators can encode and receivers can decode only in terms of their experiences.

Distortion often occurs because of participants’ differing frames of reference. Teenagers perceive things differently than do their parents; college deans perceive problems differently than do faculty members. People in various organizational functions can also interpret the same situation differently. A business problem may be viewed differently by the marketing manager than by the production manager. Different levels in the organization also have different frames of reference. First-line supervisors’ frames of reference differ in many respects from those of vice presidents. Their different positions in the organization structure influence their frames of reference. As a result, their needs, values, attitudes, and expectations differ, often resulting in unintentional distortion of communication.

2.Proxemic Behavior
An important but often overlooked element of nonverbal communication is proxemics, defined as an individual’s use of space when interpersonally communicating with others. According to Edward Hall, a prominent researcher of proxemics, people have four zones of informal space – spatial distances they maintain when interacting with others: the intimate zone (from physical contact to 18 inches), the personal zone (from 18 inches to 4 feet), the social zone (from over 4 to 12 feet), and the public zone (more than 12 feet). For Americans, manager-subordinate relationships begin in the social zone and progress to the personal zone after mutual trust has developed. An individual’s personal and intimate zones make up a “private bubble” of space that is considered private territory, not to be entered by others unless invited.

Proxemics creates a significant communication barrier when the proxemics behaviors of the sender and receiver differ. For example, assume that, like most Americans, you stand in the social zone while interacting at a social gathering such as a cocktail party. However, in the South American culture, a personal-zone distance is considered more natural in such situations. When a South American businessperson you’re talking with at a cocktail party assumes a personal-zone distance, how do you feel? Typically in such situation, an individual feels so uncomfortable with the person standing “too close” that any verbal communication isn’t heard. Conflicting proxemic behavior can also affect each individual’s perceptions of the other – you may view the South American as pushy and aggressive; she may see you as cold and impolite.

3.Communication Overload
One vital task performed by a manager is decision making. One of the necessary factors in effective decisions is information. The last decade has often been described as the time when information technology radically changed the corporate landscape. Technology has great potential to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational communication. Because of the advances, the difficulty does not lie in generating information. Rather, manager often feel buried by a deluge of information and data. As a result, people can’t absorb or adequately respond to all of the messages directed to them. They screen out the majority of messages, which in effect means that these messages are never decoded. Thus, in the area of organizational communication, “more” isn’t always “better”.


Language is the most obvious cross-cultural communications challenge. Words are easily misunderstood in verbal communication, either because the receiver has a limited vocabulary or the sender’s accent distorts the usual sound of some words.

Voice intonation is another cross-cultural communication barrier, because how loudly, deeply, and quickly we speak sends secondary messages that have different meaning in different cultures. Communication includes silence, but its use and meaning varies from one culture to another. In Japan, silence symbolizes respect and indicates that the listener is thoughtfully contemplating what has just been said. Similarly, Japanese people usually stop talking when they are interrupted, whereas talking over the person’s speech is more common in Brazil and some other countries. Indeed, Brazilians are more likely to view interruptions as evidence that the other person is involved in the conversation.

Nonverbal communication represents another potential area for misunderstanding across culture. Many nonconscious or involuntary nonverbal cues (such as smiling) have the same meaning around the world, but deliberate gestures often have different interpretations. For example, most of us shake our head from side to side to say “No,” but a variation of head shaking means “I understand” to many people in India. Filipinos raise their eyebrows to give an affirmative answer, yet Arabs interpret this expression (along with clicking one’s tongue) as a negative response.

Men and women have similar communication practices, but there are subtle distinctions that can occasionally lead to misunderstanding and conflict. One distinction is that men are more likely than women to view conversations as negotiations of relative status and power. They assert their power by directly giving advice to others (e.g., “You should do the following”) and using combative language. There is also evidence that men dominate the talk time in conversation with women, as well as interrupt more and adjust their speaking style less than do women.


The following literature review shows work done by researchers. All are related with communication barriers to distance education and the important
communication theories which explain the diffusion of innovation with telecommunications, the knowledge gap between the members involved in distance education and the uses and gratification of the users of the mass media. According to Galusha(1997) distance education gives people (students) greatest possible control over the time, place and pace in education; however, it has problems due to loss of student motivations since there is no face-to-face contact, startup cost and lack of faculty support. Such problems are categorized into three main groups as student barriers, faculty barriers, and organizational barriers. Problems and barriers encountered by students are costs and motivators, the feedback and teacher contact, the student support and services, the alienation and isolation, the lack of experience, and training related.

Barriers related with faculty are the result of the lack of staff training, the lack of support for distance learning, and the inadequate faculty selection for distance training. Barriers encountered by the organization are the infrastructure and technology related problems, and the present challenge. Heidi et al. (2002) examine the ideal combination of self-paced learning and interactivity is offered by distance education. Such learning requires online discussions, email support collaboration and interactive presentation of the students. All of which are possible through a healthy communication between participants and design groups for overcoming barriers to a successful delivery of distance learning courses. Asirvatham(2000) points out that opportunity to educate work force for all companies and industries could not be always possible in a classroom-oriented learning atmosphere for all to participate. Therefore, distance education becomes a powerful advantage to overcome great distance problems among the education institutions and people.

Alternative ways oftechnology provide sufficient tools to establish a healthy communication and interaction among members in distance education. And regardless of all its problems, distance education is a good opportunity to compete with traditional classroom format. Eisinger(2000) points out that that education showed an evolution from chalk and blackboard education to distance online learning activities. The study defines adult educators and the importance of understanding learner’s autonomy as being instructors. In addition to this, there are some aspects like the lack of non-verbal cues which creates misunderstanding through the global interaction. Also, challenges to distance education are created due to the different needs and expectations of every learning environment. According to Berge (1998), impediments to online teaching and learning can be situational, epistemological, philosophical, psychological, pedagogical, technical, social, and cultural and include faceless teaching, fear of computers replacing faculty, diffusion of value traditionally placed on getting a degree, faculty culture, lack of an adequate time-frame to implement online courses.

It is easy to go wrong when learning system is technologically advanced, there is resistant to change, and the lack of technological assistance is present. The most critical barriers, as Berge found in his survey, appear related to person’s resistance to or fear of the many changes that must occur at the individual and organizational level, the lack of support for the changing roles of students and teachers, and other barriers arising from difficulties in assessment. Berge (2001) also points out that toward the use of distance education organizations or administrations face different barriers. The study tries to find out if there is any unknown barrier to distance education which is different from technical and interaction problems. The emphasis of the research study is on designers or organizations of distance education and their reflective action to distance education. Muilenburg and Berge (2001) point out the underlying constructs that comprise barriers to distance education in their exploratory factor analysis research.

The ten factors found are administrative structure, organizational change, technical expertise, social interaction and quality, faculty compensation and time, threat of technology, legal issues, evaluation/effectiveness, access, and student support services. To determine these ten factors,they made a survey with sixty four different barrier items to 2054 members, and concluded that some barriers overlap with one or more different factors. Truman (1995) concludes that the methods and techniques to accomplish learning will be the most important. Those that eliminate communication barriers confront by nontraditional learners or students. In her study, that the delivery system in distance education may not be so important, she discussed the important barriers like money, equipment, time, student information perceptions and their understanding how the technology itself shapes the information it carries to differentiate junk information from facts.

Pajo (2001) finds that the different roles of personal and attitude wise barriers predict current use and future intentions to adopt web-based technology. Current use of the technology is closely associated with personal barriers of those who lack competence in skills needed to use web-based delivery in their distance education. These personal barriers may hinder the individual from transferring his/her intentions into behavior. Leach and Walker (2000) argue that the instructor’s feedback to students is vital in distance education for their self-evaluation, task orientation, instructor support, and flexibility. Also they point out that the amount of student’s experience with technology is directly correlated in determining if technology used in distance education is a barrier.

All technology concerns must be minimized, and the programs offered must be designed accordingly if a successful online education is to be attained. Cucek(2001) in his research study on distance education students he asks questions to Boise State University students in order to measure students` satisfaction with their distance education classes, perceived access to support services, and differences in their “classroom” behaviors in distance education and traditional face-to-face classes.

The answers are mainly concentrated upon main problems (barriers) to the successful completion of their distance education courses. Almost all responses are related to course issues, time issues, personal issues, administrative, and technical issues. Course related barriers are the lack of interaction, course structure and accessing resources. Barriers related with time were the lack of time, personal commitments, and course work that takes too much time. Motivation and self-discipline comprised personal issues. The lack of expertise made up the technical problems.Finally, administrative problems are related to cost, course availability, obtaining course materials, and administrative support.

Updated: Feb 23, 2021
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Analysis of Communication Barriers to Distance Education. (2016, Dec 24). Retrieved from

Analysis of Communication Barriers to Distance Education essay
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