Issue Paper

Online Learning
Enacted: Jan 2005

Over the last decade, the demand for quality training in community corrections agencies has expanded exponentially. Unfortunately, this demand has arisen at the very time that financial resources are declining. As a result, agencies have been seeking to reduce their training costs through the use of electronic and distance learning methods and techniques.

Unfortunately, many of the well intentioned initiatives to introduce on-line learning to probation, parole and community corrections professionals seem to have stumbled on two counts. First, the quality of the training currently offered on-line may resemble “books on computers” with minimal graphics added for color. Students may be required to read large volumes of text with little or no opportunity to engage in interactive exercises or communicate with live facilitators. Participants may become bored with this experience and quickly exit the program. The second problem is cost. Prices often quoted for the development, maintenance and delivery of electronic courses may far exceed the resources available to individual state and local agencies.


The American Probation and Parole Association seeks to improve the quality of computer based training and to overcome cost barriers by supporting affordable, instructor-led, online courses delivered directly to the computers of community corrections managers and staff across the country, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. APPA proposes a model where subject matter experts facilitate electronic, multi-media courses, providing participants with the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways and where there is direct interaction with teachers and fellow students. APPA supports on-line orientation sessions that ensure students are able to master technology prior to enrolling in specific courses. Anyone with at least a 56K modem and Web access would have access to these courses, thereby insuring the widest possible availability.

Research in a variety of disciplines including higher education and corporate training has shown that online instruction is at least as effective, if not more so than traditional, face-to-face, classroom instruction. Facilitated on-line learning is capable of expanding community corrections training capacity in a variety of ways:

  • Enhances existing face-to-face training by creating a “blended” learning environment. Students master on the computer the knowledge and basic skills components of a subject prior to entering the classroom, which is devoted to hands-on skill building.
  • Provides just-in-time training for new and existing staff. Agencies will register individual managers and line-staff in courses as the training need arises, rather than depending on an internal training unit’s schedule or waiting for enough students to become available to fill the seats in an internal classroom.
  • Reduces the costs of sending staff to external training. Students can learn anywhere they have access to a computer. The training is brought to them rather than having them brought to the training, with the attendant costs for travel, lodging and per diem.
  • Maintains the operational productivity of the managers and staff being trained. Since students will not have to leave the office to learn and will only be required to be on-line 60 to 90 minutes a day for the duration of the course, they can easily integrate training with their normal work activities.
  • Enriches the learning situation by bringing together professionals from across the country and around the world to interact with each other and share their knowledge and experiences for the benefit of all.
  • “Blended” learning mixes the training modalities of the classroom with e-learning in order to maximize the learning capacity of community corrections organizations;
  • Reserves classrooms to teach those skills that require face-to-face contact, interaction and hands-on practice in order to be mastered effectively.

In order to utilize state of the art on-line learning alternatives, community corrections agencies will need:

  • computer systems that include the software and hardware required for on-line learning, such as speakers, sound and graphics cards and, wherever possible, broadband connectivity to the internet;
  • funding support to develop interactive simulations and games that enhance the effectiveness of on-line learning for community corrections agencies;
  • partnerships with other segments of the justice and governmental communities to develop facilitated and other on-line learning courses;
  • the commitment and leadership to move the profession beyond the assumption that only face-to-face classroom training can actually teach staff the hard and soft skills that they require to do their job effectively.